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Example sentences:

From now on, I better focus on the outside world. What would I find on the other side?

From now on, I should better focus on the outside world. What would I find on the other side?

Can these two sentences exist in the universe of past-tense narrative? Or you have to modify it into something like this?

From now on, I had better focus on the outside world.

Or is there a better way to phrase this so it's suitable for past-tense narrative?

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  • Why do you call "From now on" a past-tense narrative? Are you converting that to "From then on"?
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:32
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo "From now on" is used here: books.google.com.tw/…. I think this book is written in the past-tense narrative?
    – wyc
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:34
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    "now" can refer to a present in the past: Now they had come to the edge of the woods. However had better is not a past but an irrealis form referring to an alternative universe. I had better focus could be replaced with modal I would do better to focus. It can be used in any time-frame.
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:40
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    So, something like. I stepped in the mud puddle. I'd better watch where I was going ?
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:47
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    Yes, "I'd" is a contraction for "I had". The character would think I'd better watch where I am going but when reporting his thought in the past-tense narrative it would become I'd better watch where I was going. It is immensely complicated, epistemologically, to report an admonition you made to yourself in the past as if the future still lay ahead of you. Back then, it did lie ahead. But now, that future is a thing of the past. I would do better in the alternative universe to watch where I WAS going.
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:59

2 Answers 2

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"I better focus" is not grammatically correct, but it's used in common speech as a further contraction of "I'd better focus" (whether it's for "should" or "had").

As for a past tense narrative, I'm not sure any of the above would work. The only non-awkward turn of phrase that comes to my mind for that is "I should better focus, I thought." or "From then on, I needed to focus."

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    I think the "From now on, X had to ..." construction is used in some books written in the past tense narrative: books.google.com.tw/…
    – wyc
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:31
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    You're right, that would work well too.
    – snetch
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:32
  • the had in had better is a defective verb. And X "had to" is not its past tense. Of course, needed to is the past tense of need to but not of had better.
    – Lambie
    Oct 12, 2018 at 13:08
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present tense: From now on, I had better focus on the outside world. What would I find on the other side?

past tense: From then on, I would have done better to focus on the outside world. What would I find on the other side?

The past tense of the unreal (irrealis as grammarians seem to prefer) condition: had better is: would have done better.

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