For some reason, I can't find an information question with had better in any websites, no grammar rules covering this! It's all about yes/no questions. It got me thinking if there is something about using had better with a question word. For example does this question sound natural to a native speaker?

What had you better do if you've lost your child in a mall?

1 Answer 1


"Had better" is used to strongly suggest a particular course of action. While it can be included in questions, the only typical use would be suggestions phrased as questions:

Hadn't you better get to school? It's already almost time for your class.

The speaker is not really asking a question here. It's simply phrased as a question because this can sound more polite. This is why the responses to these questions are normally either:

Yes, I had (because ...)

No, I don't have to (because ...)

In this it's not really different from other questions that ask for confirmation:

Weren't you late to class yesterday?

Didn't you wash your face after you woke up?

However, in some contexts "had better" works the same as "should" or "ought". So it is possible to use "had better" in an information question, as in your example:

What is something you had better do if you've lost your child in the mall?

but, at least to me, this still sounds slightly odd. For clarity I would instead say:

What is something you should do if you've lost your child in the mall?

or even better:

What should you do if you've lost your child in the mall?

  • Interesting. So there is something about using had better in information questions. I see even if you rephrased the question, you still have a preference for should . I assume other native speakers of English must feel the same. Am I right?
    – Yuri
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 19:38
  • 2
    I agree, "had better" sounds old fashioned. "Should" is used much more commonly. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 20:02
  • 1
    @Yuri yes I think of it as somewhat formal, but not really archaic. It's a phrasing I would associate with a stuffy British upper-class period drama like Downton Abbey, or even both together, "You should had better". In any case, because it's a phrase most commonly used with a kind of admonition, I wouldn't use it in your example sentence because it would sound rude and insensitive, as if I was telling you that you had done something wrong.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 21:29

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