According to Collins Dictionary

If you say that someone would be better off doing something, you are advising them to do it or expressing the opinion that it would benefit them to do it, as in:

  • If you've got bags, you're better off taking a taxi.
  • Their stance seems to be that a baby or child is better off in its country of birth.

What’s the meaning and function of the preposition “off” used after better. Wouldn’t “better” alone suffice in this case?

2 Answers 2


From the Oxford English Dictionary: [behind a paywall]

A. adv.

Used predicatively: in a more favourable or advantageous position; esp. better provided with money or other resources. Cf. well off adv.


Frequency (in current use):
Origin: Formed within English, by conversion. Etymon: of prep.

And finally from that entry, also relevant here:

A. adv. I. General uses. Off has been used since the Middle English period with many verbs, e.g. buy v., come v., dash v.1, get v., go v., look v., mark v., palm v., pass v., rattle v.1, show v., take v., etc.: see the first element. In most of these the basic uses of off correspond to those given below, while (as with other phrasal verbs) the further developments take a more idiomatic turn.

*** x****

I am assuming (and I could be wrong) that since it was formed from the preposition of, the original usage might have been some kind of comparative: the better of two things. And eventually came to have a meaning on its own: better off, worse off, well off.

Please note: to be better off is not the idiom: You had better [verb].


Better off is an idiom, essentially stemming from well off. To be well off is to be wealthy or prosperous.

Concentrating on prosperity, rather than wealth: to prosper means "to be or become successful, especially financially". The idiom, better off, therefore most-directly means "more likely to be successful".

Better on it's own would not be correct, in either sentence:

  • "If you've got bags, you're better taking a taxi" (is not grammatic or, at least, is not natural)

  • "Their stance seems to be that a baby or child is better in its country of birth." (alludes more it being a better situation for them, not necessarily better for the child)

Without substantially changing the meaning, for the first sentence, you could try:

  • "If you've got bags, you [had|'d] better take a taxi"
  • "If you've got bags, your best [option|bet] is [taking] a taxi"

If I had to change the second sentence, I would probably rework it completely. In doing so, it would no longer be as succinct.

  • 1
    "If you've got bags, you're better taking a taxi" - pretty natural and normal in British English. Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 9:07
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey: not to this British Englishman but, like I often imply here, we'll all tolerate minor mistakes when they don't affect the overall understanding... Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 12:26
  • 1
    Some of us have different notions of what constitutes a "mistake". Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 12:34
  • If you've got bags, you'd better take a taxi.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 14:22

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