Speaker A: Thanks for the fish, I'll feed it to my crocodile.

Speaker B: Your crocodile? I (had) better not ask.

I better not ask sounds better to me (2,480 results on Google Books). However, the one with the most results is I had better not ask (23,1000).

Which one is the most common idiom? (I'm open to other suggestions.)

  • 1
    When people say what sounds like "I better not ask" they are usually saying "I'd better not ask".
    – Hot Licks
    May 6, 2015 at 12:45
  • @Hot Licks So the 'd is actually a had?
    – wyc
    May 6, 2015 at 12:45
  • 1
    That is correct.
    – Hot Licks
    May 6, 2015 at 12:46
  • @HotLicks I see, thanks. It sounded weird to me. Because had makes it sound as if it was happening in the past.
    – wyc
    May 6, 2015 at 12:47
  • Don't ask me to give you the part of speech of "had" in that case -- it's been almost 50 years since I studied this stuff. But it doesn't mean "in the past". (I'm thinking maybe it's subjunctive mood, but that's just a guess.)
    – Hot Licks
    May 6, 2015 at 12:50

1 Answer 1


From Michael Swan's Modern English usage - p 230.

We use had better to give strong advice, or to tell people what to do (including ourselves)

  • It's seven o'clock. I'd better put the meat in the oven.

Had better refers to the immediate future, but the form is always past (have better is impossible). After had better we use the infinitive without to.

  • It's late - you had better hurry up.

Had better is not used in polite requests.


  1. Could you help me, if you've got time? (request)
  2. You'd better help me. lf you don't, there'll be trouble. (order/threat)

Note that had better does not usually suggest that the action recommended would be better than another one that is being considered - there is no idea of comparison. The structure means 'It would be good to .. :, not 'It would be better to .. .'.

Had is sometimes dropped in very informal speech.

  1. You better go now.
  2. I better try again later.
  • The structure shows a preference for something. Your last sentence is incorrect. "I'd better go" ~= "My going is better than my staying". May 6, 2015 at 13:10

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