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Provided "should" and "had better" are near synonyms (stronger advice in "had better" than in "should" or in more formal "ought to"), I know I can say

You shouldn't have done this!

But how about

You had better not have done this!

?

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  • 1
    You can say both of them, but they mean different things. – Peter Shor May 25 '15 at 13:40
  • I think your proviso needs better (i.e. some) justification. – Tim Lymington May 25 '15 at 13:44
  • I did not know that "You had better not have done this!" was possible! My many trusted grammar books do not say anything about "had better" followed by a perfect infinitive. This is why I so appreciate this website and its knowledgeable guests! – user58319 May 25 '15 at 14:18
2

as Peter Shor points out, you can say either of them, but they mean completely different things. So you cannot say the latter to mean the former. Specifically:

  • You shouldn't have done this!

The speaker knows that the other person has done "this", but wishes the other person hadn't done "this", or knows a reason why it was a bad idea to do so.

  • You'd better not have done this!

This almost shouts, even without a "!" The speaker is not sure whether the other person did or did not do "this", but is making quite clear that IF that person did do "this", he/she is going to be in a heap of trouble. Blame will be affixed; consequences will ensue.

3
  • So, something like "you had better not be the culprit"… which enables one to fall back on "had better" + simple infinitive… – user58319 May 25 '15 at 14:23
  • I don't know what you mean by "fall back on", but yes, it is like that. – Brian Hitchcock May 25 '15 at 14:31
  • "go back to" the structure commonly recorded in grammar books. Sorry! – user58319 May 25 '15 at 14:36
1

The verbs should and had better are not exact synonyms. While should carries the sense that you are obliged to do something, had better carries the sense that if you don't do it, bad things will happen. These situations overlap a lot of the time, but not always.

So you can say

You should pay the mortgage.
You should write thank-you notes for your presents.

And you can say (because the bank will charge late payment fees, and might even foreclose on your house)

You had better pay the mortgage.

But if you say

You had better write thank-you notes for your presents,

you sound like a parent implicitly threatening to punish your children if they don't.

In the negative perfect, shouldn't carries the sense that it did happen, while had better not doesn't. So

You shouldn't have dented my car.

means that you dented my car, and you were not supposed to (and while it's quite possible that I'm upset with you about it, that's not actually implied). While

You had better not have dented my car.

means that I don't know whether or not you dented my car, but I am going to be very upset with you if you did.

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They are not exact synonyms, only near synonyms! In the present time, the shade added to "should do something" by "had better do something" is threat.

Quite obviously, you cannot now try to influence someone's decision – threaten them – about a past situation which involved a choice of theirs, a decision no longer in the making.

We must – perforce – as far as threats are concerned, "let bygones be bygones!"

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  • I don't entirely agree. You can make a conditional threat, for implementation when you find out whether the person has actually done it or not. Then "You'd better not have done it!" Implication, If I find out that you did it, you'll really be in Dutch. (Similarly for "It had better not have been you who did that!") Where is the influence there, you will ask? Indeed there is no choice-changing threat, it's too late, but people do nevertheless talk like this. – David Pugh May 25 '15 at 13:59
  • It's not necessarily a threat. But should carries the sense that you are obliged to do it, while had better carries the sense that if you don't do it, bad things will happen. You should write thank-you notes. You had better pay the mortgage. – Peter Shor May 25 '15 at 14:25

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