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  1. #1
    aachu's Avatar
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    Default Using 'Had better' in the past

    I was reading the use of 'had better', which is used to give strong advice or to tell people what to do about the present or future, in Michael Swan's book, and it occurred to me at once as to how can we use it in the past. For example, if I were to say: "It had been good if you had not gone there", can't we use 'had better' here making the sentence look somewhat like: "You had better not gone there"? Can it, at all, be used in the past?
    Last edited by aachu; 30-Jan-2012 at 17:12.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    You cannot make a suggestion/recommendation or give advice about the past. You can only hypothesise about something that did not happen:

    It would have been better if you had gone.

  3. #3
    susiedq is offline Member
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    Perhaps someone can explain the unique use of "better" in the following sentences.

    It does alter the verb.

    He better keep that quiet.

    He had better save his allowance if he wants to buy that car.

    He better have kept that quiet.

  4. #4
    emsr2d2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by susiedq View Post
    Perhaps someone can explain the unique use of "better" in the following sentences.

    It does alter the verb.

    He better keep that quiet.
    I would never say this. I would say "He had better keep that quiet".

    He had better save his allowance if he wants to buy that car.
    I agree with the wording of this one.

    He better have kept that quiet.
    As with number 1, that's not what I would say. I would say "He had better have kept that quiet".
    Sorry to disagree with another native speaker but my comments are above in red. In numbers 1 and 3 I would contract "He had" to "He'd" which may well be why many people think they're just hearing "He better".

  5. #5
    BobSmith is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    It might be AmE, or perhaps a silent "apostrophe d" as you mentioned, but I hear variations of "You better do what you're told." quite often.

    You better go to sleep.
    You better shut up.
    You better watch where you're going
    ... watch your step.
    ...watch what you're doing.

    All of these sound "natural" to me.

  6. #6
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    You'll hear 'you better' in BrE, and children have been heard sayin such things as 'you better go, bettern't you', as if 'better' were a modal verb. However, in written BrE 'you better' is unacceptable. In spoken BrE, we assume that the "'d"is there, even if it's not heard.

  7. #7
    aachu's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by BobSmith View Post
    It might be AmE, or perhaps a silent "apostrophe d" as you mentioned, but I hear variations of "You better do what you're told." quite often.

    You better go to sleep.
    You better shut up.
    You better watch where you're going
    ... watch your step.
    ...watch what you're doing.

    All of these sound "natural" to me.
    Not a teacher, nor a native speaker.

    Yes, they do. Swan says that 'Had' is dropped in very informal speech.

  8. #8
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by aachu View Post
    Yes, they do. Swan says that 'Had' is dropped in very informal speech.
    He actually wrote that it is 'sometimes dropped in very informal speech' (my emphasis added).

    This is one of the times that Swan cannot be totally relied on. It is very difficult indeed to be sure whether the "'d" has been dropped, or simply not released.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    I will fully own up to having previously "I didn't used to" because I it sounds the same as "I didn't use to." And that's an error, which I no longer make.

    But I agree with my fellow American. We use "You better..." quite frequently on this side of the pond. "You better watch your step!"

    In fact, the latter is in an Elvis Costello song, and he's from London. Granted, song lyrics are the bane of our existance. But here's one more: You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  10. #10
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Using 'Had better' in the past

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    But I agree with my fellow American. We use "You better..." quite frequently on this side of the pond. "You better watch your step!"
    I offer discounts to Americans who take English courses with me.

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