Had Better vs. Should vs. Ought To

'Had better,' 'should,' and 'ought to' are used to give advice. In this lesson, we will learn their uses, similarities, and differences.

"Had Better" vs. "Should" vs. "Ought To" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference 'had better,' 'should,' and 'ought to' is that 'had better' and 'ought to' are semi-modals while 'should' is a modal.

Had better

'Had better' is a 'semi-modal verb.' 'Had better' is used to show what is the best thing to do. It is mainly used in its contracted form and to give warnings. Have a look:

I'd better return to my hotel.

He'd better not come to the meeting.

Should

'Should' is a modal verb. 'Should' is used to talk about obligations, assumptions, and to give advice. For example:

He should be at the meeting.

You should call the police at the time of danger.

Ought to

'Ought to' is a semi-modal. It expresses assumptions, obligations, advices, and expectations. For instance:

I ought to leave soon.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Similarities and Differences

Advice

We use 'had better,' 'ought to,' and 'should' to express what we think is the best thing to do or to put it simply: give advice. For instance:

You'd better call for a taxi.

You should call for a taxi.

You ought to call for a taxi.

Talking about Assumptions

We use 'should' and 'ought to' to talk about assumptions that are statements without any firm proof. For example:

She should be done with the meeting.

She ought to be done with the meeting.

Talking about Obligations

We can use 'should' and 'ought to' to talk about obligations and duties. 'Ought to' gives a stronger sense of duty than 'should.' Take a look at these examples:

You should stop at the stop sign.

You ought to stop at the stop sign.

Formality and Frequency

The table below illustrates the frequency of 'had better,' 'ought to,' and 'should' in formal and informal contexts.

Formal Informal
Had better neutral common
Ought to common uncommon
Should common common

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