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What is the right verb form for "had better" sentences? For example:

  1. She had better remember that she has to leave the city soon.

  2. She had better remember that she have to leave the city soon (subjunctive).

  3. She had better remember that she had to leave the city soon.

Thanks.

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had better takes the base form (infinitive without to).

The construction had better remember is correct. The subjunctive is not required. It's enough to say:

She had better remember that she has to leave the city soon.

Replacing has by had shows no coherence with the first part since the construction had better takes the base form and not the past simple form of the verb.


Regarding OP's comment: had better is used to give advice or warning. Even though had is the past simple of have, the expression had better allows to give advice about the present or future.
Its negative form is had better not. (NOT had not better.)

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  • In some contexts replacing has with had is appropriate. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 12 '16 at 23:28
  • what about this one?: "she had had better remember that she had to leave the city soon, now it is too late to make it up.." a suggestion "had better" used in the past time and now expressed? – Ceyhun Özsoylu Feb 13 '16 at 3:50
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The idiom had better is irrelevant here: it governs the verb remember, which must be in the infinitive form without a to marker.

The verb whose form you ask about, HAVE, is employed here as the finite verb heading the that clause ('content' clause) which is remember's complement. Remember does not license a 'subjunctive' form in its complement; the verb which heads the complement clause agrees as usual with its subject in person and number, and is cast in the form which expresses the appropriate tense.

In this case the subject of HAVE is she, a 3d person singular pronoun, so it should take either a present-tense form has or a past-tense form had. Which you use depends on what you mean.

  • You probably mean that she should remember an obligation to leave in the near future. If this is the case, use has.

    She had better remember that she has to leave the city soon.

  • However, it is possible you wish her to be reminded of a past occasion when it was necessary for her to leave. If this is the case, use had.

    It seems that Diane has forgotten why she failed to meet Bill last year. She claims it was because he stood her up; she had better remember that she had to leave the city soon and she stood him up.

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  • great point thank you very much what I meant was the first near future form, thanks, "had" in the had better sentences make me prone to mistakes, for instance what if for your second example of past occasion, could we have said she had had better remember that she had to leave the city soon to make the whole sentence be in sync in terms of tense? is there a past and future forms of "had better" ? – Ceyhun Özsoylu Feb 13 '16 at 0:31
  • @CeyhunÖzsoylu See my updated answer. – Alejandro Feb 13 '16 at 2:00
  • @CeyhunÖzsoylu Had better is a fixed form which does not inflect. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 13 '16 at 4:38

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