What is the difference between had better do something and had better be doing something? For example:

It's 8 AM, so I had better leave for work if don't want to be late.

It's 8 AM, so I had better be leaving for work if don't want to be late.

Does the use of had better be leaving implies that it's not really important to me wheter I will be late or not. If I mistaken, then what do native English speakers mean by using the had better be doing structure instead of had better do one?

  • I don't think there is any real difference in meaning. Be leaving implies prepare to leave - it doesn't mean that not being late isn't important, it just suggests that there is still plenty of time. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 13:15
  • So if I said "I had bettee be leaving" it would imply that it is not that urgent as opposed to "had better leave", am I right? Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 14:53
  • It suggests to me "It's time for me to get my things together and put my coat on" rather than "I must go right now." Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


If someone says that you had better do something, they mean you should do that thing. If they say that you had better be doing something, they mean that they expect you to be doing that thing now (or already), and the speaker will be angry (or you will get in trouble, or a bad thing will happen) if you are not.

  • Not necessarily "now or soon". Nothing wrong with You'd better leave a few pounds still owing on your mortgage when it matures in [x] years time, because then the building society will continue to look after the title deeds until you actually need them. But in that example, You'd better be leaving a few pounds... would be affectation or dialect. Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 23:01

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