Had Better Construction

1. General

1.1. Label

idiomatic modal verb construction

1.2. Reasons for construction status

(reasons for constructional status)

We would expect that had better is a form of the auxiliary have followed by an adverb better and, consequently, governs a past participle, but in the construction at hands, it governs a base form. Had better resembles an auxiliary verb in that its form never changes to show person or tense and that it is always finite, i.e. it cannot follow another verb in a phrase. Moreover, it never appears without another verb in a sentence. The construction also requires the form had and is not possible with have/has.

1.3. Examples

  1. We had better torment our own man next.
  2. We had better learn how to use it well.
  3. Because, if so, I had better watch out.

2. Language Information


2.2. Language


2.3. Variety

(to be filled out if the construction belongs to a particular geographic, social, situational, or stylistic variety or to a particular genre)

no particular geographic, social, situational, or stylistic variety or to a particular genre

2.4. Speech Community

(to be filled out if the construction is used in a particular speech community)

no particular speech community

2.5. Language Contact

(to be filled out if the construction influenced by constructions from another languages)

The construction is not influenced by constructions from another language

2.6. Time Period

(time period of construction)

2.7. Stage of Acquisition

(comments on age and circumstances of the acquisition)

3. Form

3.1. Syntax


(general comments on the syntactic properties of the construction)

The had better construction is similar to auxiliaries like should and ought to. It has a number of idiosyncratic properties. The formally most outstanding property is that had better is followed by a VP in base form (bare infinitive).

3.1.2. Internal Valency

(information on valency relationships inside the construction)

There is always a bare infinitival VP following had better

Had better + VP [base] Constituency

(description of the constituent relationships inside the construction)

The constituent relationships inside the construction are not clear. The obvious options are:

  1. had is an auxiliary and better is an adverb.
    1. Advantage: normal constituency, accounts for most of the syntactic properties
    2. Problem: had cannot govern a base VP (“You had *(better) be sure”)
  2. had better is one word
    1. Advantage: accounts for the impossibility of * hadn’t better VP
    2. Problem: inversion of had is marginally possible
  3. had is an auxiliary and better is a verb.
    1. Advantage: better can occur in the position of finite modals even without had (“You better be sure”).
    2. Problem: if better is a modal, it would be different from all other modals in occurring after had.

3.1.3. External Category

(category label)

had better VP is a finite, saturated VP with an auxiliary verb. This means it is a VP[fin,aux+]

To test this, the NICE(R) properties need to be investigated:

  1. Negation (Only auxiliary verbs can be followed by not marking sentential negation (including have and be): not, n’t is ungrammatical for the had better construction.
    1. Auxiliary have: You haven’t called today.
    2. Modal: You should not call today.
    3. had better: *?You hadn't better call today.
  2. Inversion (Only auxiliary verbs undergo subject-auxiliary inversion): It is probably not ungrammatical in the had better construction but it sounds strange.
    1. Auxiliary have: Have you gone there?
    2. Modal: Should we go there?
    3. had better: ??Had you better go now?
  3. Contraction (Only auxiliary verbs have contracted forms with the suffix n’t): there is no contracted form of had better with the negation.
  4. Ellipsis (The complement of an auxiliary verb, but not of a main verb, can be elided): had better cannot appear stranded at the end of a sentence.
    1. Auxiliary have: Chris has prepared for the exam and Pat has, too.
    2. Modal: Chris prepares for the exam and Pat should, too.
    3. had better: * Chris prepares for the exam and Pat had better, too.
  5. Reinforcement:
    1. Auxiliary have: Pat has SO prepared for the exam.
    2. Modal: Pat may SO
    3. had better: Pat had (*SO) better (*SO)

Emphasis: the had better construction can not be used for emphasis e. g.:?? I had better like cheese

In the had better construction had does not show its regular behaviour with respect to the NICE properties.

Also the combination had better does not show the NICE properties.

Strange cases:

There are some occurrences of had better don’t Structural Position

(syntagmatic relationships with other constructions (but see also 4.3))

3.2. Morphology


(general comments on the morphological properties of the construction)

3.2.2. Internal Morphological Properties of Elements

(morphological properties of elements)

had: is only used in its past tense form:
  1. You had better be sure. compare: You had been sure.
  2. * You have better be sure. compare: You have been sure.
  3. * You will have better be sure. compare: You will have been sure.
  4. * You have had better be sure. compare: You have had an interesting conversation/ *been sure
better: does not change. There is a version of the construction that involves the superlative form best (“You had best call home sooner.”).

3.2.3. External Morphological Properties of Construction

(morphological properties of the construction itself)

4. Meaning

4.1. Semantics


(prose description of construction's meaning)

Had better is an English construction which expresses what is preferable or advisable or obligatory It is a modal construction. This may explain the obligatoriness of the past tense form of had.

4.1.2. Internal Frame

(frame evoked) Event

(event type) Participants

(description of the participants, e.g. as 'selection restrictions')

Usually the subject is a volitional agent. However, there are occurrences with impersonal it in this position, where the it refers to an afore-mentioned event or proposition:

  1. BNC: HH3 13201 Grimly we think to ourselves `;It had better be good' Truth-Conditional Information

(information on the truthconditional properties of the construction) Negation

(peculiar behaviours with respect to negation) Scope

(description of the scope of the construction)

4.1.3. External Semantic Class

(semantic category) Relation to Construction-External Semantic Elements

(description of semantic relations outside of the construction) Truth Relations

(information on the truthconditional relationships of the construction) Semantic Presuppositions

(semantic presupposition) Semantic Entailments

(semantic entailments)

4.2. Pragmatics


(general comments on the pragmatic behaviour of the construction)

4.2.2. Internal

(internal pragmatic properties)

4.2.3. External Indexical Properties Deixis

(linguistic and extralinguistic domains indexed) Intertextuality

(intertextual links evoked) Interpersonal Function

(politeness, other-self, etc.) Speaker attitude

(modality, epistemic, emotion) Speech Act Function

(illocutionary force) Rhetorical Function

(rhetorical potential) Style

(stylistic features) Pragmatic Presuppositions / Implicature

(modality, epistemic, emotion)

4.3. Discourse Properties

4.3.1. Internal Turn Constructional Status

(status as TCU) Within-Turn Position

(turn-initial, -medial, -final position, etc.)

4.3.2.External Sequential Context

(position in sequence) Position in Text- and Dialogue-Structure

(position in larger discourse structure) Sequence Type

(type of sequence)

4.4. Information Structure

4.4.1. Internal Topic - Comment

(contribution to topic-comment structure) Focus

(placement of focus)

4.4.2. External Signaled Information Status

(status of information as given, new, inferable, etc.) Information Status Requirements

(information status requirements)

4.5. Data

4.5.1. Introspection

(introspective data used)

4.5.2. Authentic data Source data properties

(description of corpus (publicly available/self-compiled, channel/medium, register, genre, text type, speaker info (number of interlocutors, gender, age, background, (non-)native, etc.)))

BNC via SARA (http://sara.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/lookup.html), queries carried out 06/28/07.The references to the hits are made according to the BNC standard, i.e. in A0N 283, AON is the code for the subcorpus and 283 the number of the sentence.
  1. Query: had better
    1. A0N 283 We had better torment our own man next.
    2. A0N 1837 We had better tell him nothing., It was the second cover-up of the day
    3. A64 53 Her son had better stay within the ranks, she thinks.
    4. A7H 540 `;Well then, you had better have one,'; said Diana, and bent down to kiss him on the cheek.
    5. ACK 1912 Otley then decided he had better take the venison back to Claro before the community constable went on his early morning rounds.
    6. ACR 521 If you want to challenge him about anything you had better have your facts right.
    7. ACR 1372 As harvest looms, growers who are over-enthusiastic with the matches when the combines have finished had better watch out.
    8. AD9 1436 We had better begin with autostimulation, I think.
    9. AN8 2002 And the other members of the staff who are joining us had better put in an appearance soon, don't you think?'
    10. ANL 289 We had better take her to the mortuary, before the daily hordes come pouring in.
    11. B0H 1025 Mike [Foot] said wryly that if, as Harold Lever said, we had only a 50 per cent chance of avoiding catastrophe, we had better work out a contingency plan in case that chance did not come off.
    12. B23 2008 We had better learn how to use it well.
    13. B3J 1199 `;You had better get yourself into the washhouse and clean yourself up,'; she said, `;I am going round to the Post Office and let Sid Watkins know.'
    14. B77 2180 While I am about it, I had better apologise on behalf of a contributor, who was castigated by post for not looking up the meaning of a phrase that was, to him, mysterious.
    15. BMK 170 Driver explained that `;we have effectively been prompted by our supplier, who has warned us that we had better wean people off it.
    16. BMR 411 This had better be bloody good.
    17. BMR 675 I could have got away with murder that Saturday night, although under the present circumstances I had better add that I made no attempt to do so.
    18. BMX 1333 `;We had better get on, then.
    19. CAK 1510 Do they take a blindfold and a pin into the booth with them, and then spend four years boasting that nobody had better take their support for granted if they want to get re-elected?
    20. CBC 14131 Mr Pitt had better cheer up soon or his career will sink without trace, and throughout the whole film you can see the joins.
    21. CEY 639 More to give herself time to think than because she wished to know, she said to Constance, `;Perhaps you had better tell me right from the beginning, Constance.'
    22. CH3 2436 I rejected the offer and said that, if these were the terms, Williams had better go ahead and sign Senna.
    23. EFN 1874 Then Baldwin saw him again and told hint that were it not for his age and his health (neither of which had greatly changed in the preceding forty-eight hours), he would have offered him the vacancy, but as it was it had better go to Eden.
    24. FSP 2445 Having lost some of the true Christian Scientist's sanguinity about money and the faith that good Scientists should be able to demonstrate prosperity, she suggested faintly that Harriet had better take a secretarial course and equip herself to earn what she called a hat allowance, by which she meant a living.
    25. G0X 163 Because, if so, I had better watch out.
    26. G0Y 417 All we can do is hope that Mrs W. will cool off and in the meantime, Edward, I'm sorry but honestly I think Mary or Janice had better take over Junior Biology.'
    27. G28 347 Perhaps we had better stick to shooting fish in a barrel; the odds are a shade more even.
    28. G3H 166 Mr. Grist: The Hon. Gentleman had better prove that it is not clean and fit to drink.
    29. GUK 1715 Well then, retorted her amused audience: you had better find it out hadn't you?
    30. H0D 750 You had better give me a few days.
    31. H8L 59 I had better,'; said Mr Stanforth, philosophically accepting the fact of her total ignorance, `;tell you exactly what the position is.
    32. HA5 173 I think you had better come in.'
    33. HGL 1367 `;I think we had better go.'
    34. HH1 2095 And while he was about it, Guy told himself savagely, he had better discover what little plot Isabel had in mind once she reached Winchester.
    35. HH3 13201 Grimly we think to ourselves `;It had better be good'
    36. HHV 9074 Will the Minister bear it in mind that if he wants to get rid of toxic waste in Northern Ireland, he had better not employ the services of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
    37. HHV 9917 In deference to you, Mr. Speaker, perhaps I had better not respond to the last part of my hon. Friend's question, but I entirely agree with the spirit of his comments.
    38. HHW 7609 I had better take one from a Conservative Member now.
    39. HTL 2293 We found Dod's van in the NCP and I explained to Kim that as he only had one passenger seat, the two of us had better travel in the cold and bare, unheated back along with Dod's drum kit.
    40. HTX 1028 While they were working on this case there were some things which Nikos had better not know.
    41. J13 3261 I had better ring.
    42. J54 1384 " You had better serve it," Sara said.
    43. JA0 264 It had better not be it had better not yeah well you see see how important that I it it on the basis of your voice now you might as well walk out the door.
    44. KB8 11818 Oh the ducks yes ducks that's right the ducks had better watch out or they're gonna get run over.
    45. KBW 13630 Well yesterday apparently he told her that she had better turn up this morning cos of her excuses.
    46. KCP 1008 I know, I wish I had better take the dog out.
    47. ANL 2622 `;You had better come to my room, then.'
    48. B3J 1631 `;Come on mate,'; Yanto urged as he stood up, `;we had better get aboard.
    49. BMU 1513 She remembered it later on, after they had inspected the three pretty bedrooms and the wonderful bathroom with its big bath and tiled frieze of mermaids; and she debated within herself whether or not she had better tell Susan.
    50. ASS 1268 He had better catch up on Elinor's latest batch of instructions.

B: The internet with google
  1. Query: “had better”
    1. which, had he better recollected their contents,. his own books would have supplied. In a small. Collection of Anecdotes, published anonymously, ... (1855) (http://nq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/s1-XII/311/293.pdf, 28.06.2007, 13:14)
    2. Had Wolfram showed less self serving bravado and more humility, had he better documented and referenced prior work instead of negating it, ...(2002) (http://frontwheeldrive.com/reviews_new_science.html, 28.06.07, 13:15)
  2. Query: "had better don't"
    1. I think you had better don't eat raw salmon except the restaurants which
you can trust it. By the way, I have never eat raw salmon. ... (http://www.awpi.com/AustinAxis/Food/Sushi.html)
  1. Query: “’d better don’t”
    1. Winter travels have their special charm, but you'd better don't try if you are not used to subzero temperatures. What should you take with ... (www.womenrussia.com/visiting.htm) Methods of Analysis

(source material size/length, number of tokens considered, sampling, search string, sample rate, number of retrieved hits, cleaning procedures)

4.6. Literature

(list of literature in which this construction has been discussed)

5. Relations to other constructions

5.1. Subtypes

5.1.1. Diachronic

(relations to subtypes of the construction through time)

5.1.2. Synchronic

(relations to subtypes of the construction)

The had better construction belongs to the modal constructions of English.

5.2. Supertypes

5.2.1. Diachronic

(relations to more general constructions through time)

5.2.2. Synchronic

(relations to more general constructions)

5.3. Paradigmatic Relations

(relations to constructions of the same category)

There is a number of related constructions:
  1. better: You better go home now.
  2. had best: You had best go home now.
  3. _had rather: You had rather go home now.

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