By definition of Cambridge Dictionaries Online

The word 'better' means

comparative of good: of a higher quality or more enjoyable than someone or something else

By most dictionaries, better off means better economically.

For example:

"The better–off people live in the older section of town."

By some dictionaries, better off can also mean the same as just the word better

For example:

"Steve’s an idiot – you’d be better off without him."

In this example above, better off is used just like better. Am I right?

So what's the difference between "better" and "better off"?

In what contexts would using "better off" be better(or better off) than just using "better"?

  • 3
    Note that saying "The better people live in the older section of town" would be making a very strong and social judgement about them. This, in turn, implies a rather offensive judgement about the people who don't live in the older part of town, along the lines of, "Better people live here; undesirable people live over there. We prefer not to think about them." Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 15:45

4 Answers 4


"Better off" means having better circumstances. Possessing wealth is the most obvious way to have better circumstances.

If better people live in the older section of town, we're talking about the people themselves being better, not their circumstances. Perhaps they're more moral, perhaps they're more intelligent, but something about the people themselves is better. If better-off people live in that section, we're talking about the people's circumstances. Probably they're wealthier. Perhaps they come from more prestigious families. Still, there's a difference between the people themselves and their circumstances.

If you're better off without him, it means that your circumstances improve without him. In this case we're probably not talking about your wealth, but we could be talking about how comfortable your surroundings are or the emotional resources you can retain when you don't need to support the relationship. If you're better without him, then we're talking about an improvement in you. Perhaps you're happier, or you're healthier, or you're better able to think straight.

When we're talking about a better person, we're comparing the person directly. When we're talking about a better-off person, we're comparing the person's circumstances, especially the person's possessions. That's the distinction that remains consistent.


Being "better off" means that things (other than yourself) are better for you. That is, you are able to be happier, or be in a better condition. For instance, being "better off" without Steve means that without him, your life would be better. Notice the distinction: Your life is better, not you yourself.

Being "better" means being superior in some way. That is, being smarter, stronger, kinder, etc. Merely being happier does not count as being "better", unless that happiness is useful for something. e.g. Seeing you happy makes others happy, therefore your happiness makes you better for them.

If you're "better" without Steve, it would imply that you yourself have improved somehow. Like, perhaps being around Steve made you a less patient person, or made you physically ill. And now, with Steve gone, you are better to others, or are capable of doing more than you could before.

The key here is that "better" does not mean "happier". It means having a functional superiority in some aspect. That is, it is a change within the person (or object) which is "better". Benefits from being "better" could easily apply to people around said person, rather than the person who is "better".

When adding "off" the meaning changes to having a functional benefit for the person who is "better off". The person is unchanged, however (Save, perhaps, for being made happier).


For example: "Steve’s an idiot – you’d be better off without him."

In this example above, better off is used just like better. Am I right?

It would sound slightly awkward to leave out the "off" in this case. Saying "better" without the "off" would almost imply that he was making you physically sick, and that you will feel better when you he's out of your life. "Better off" implies that the state of your life will be better when he is no longer in it, and that's probably what you intend here.

"better off" is generally used in 2 distinct cases:

  1. as an idiomatic synonym for "richer" ("Jack is better off than Joe")
  2. when you are comparing choices someone could make or has made ("better off without her"; "better off leaving"; "better off just giving up"; etc). In all these cases there are, at least implicitly, two options, and you are saying that the person will be in a better state if he or she chooses one.
  • better = something is better than something else, someone is better than someone else
  • better off = someone is in a better situation than someone else, someone will have a better situation with/without something

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