[i] He hadn’t better tell them. (CGEL, p.113)
[ii] He had better not tell her. (CGEL, p.196)

According to CGEL, negation can be marked after or before better. But I can’t find any examples of [i] in COCA or BNC. So it seems to be not grammatical issue but others in there. Why aren’t there any examples of [i] in those corpuses?

2 Answers 2


As a speaker of US English, I am nonplussed by your version [i]; I have only encountered [ii].

The only circumstance in which I could imagine [i] occurring is an ‘echoic’ denial of the positive proposition:

A: He’d better tell them.
B: No, he hadn’t better tell them. He’d better keep his mouth shut.

But the idiom may be used differently in the British English which is CGEL’s underlying standard.


Both of them are used, although I've only ever heard (1) in highly colloquial speech and not from the most reliable models of English usage, at least in the US. It may be more acceptable in other countries. I don't recommend it.

(2) is correct in any and every situation, with or without "had.":

You (had) better not be here when my father arrives.

I('d) better get going; I have a long drive.

Tell Ross he better pass that test or he's off the team!

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