Saber diferenciar «Should, ought to, had better» en inglés


Some teachers prefer to include ‘should’ with their lesson on obligation. Others, like we’re going to do here, prefer to teach it as a separate lesson. In any case, we use ‘should’, ‘ought to’ and ‘had better’ to talk about advice, suggestions, threats and warnings.


You had better be careful with that snake 

We should use less plastic

theory-icon-red-i360-by-diverbo   THEORY


We use ‘should’ when we want to give advice, make suggestions or say that something is the right thing to do. We NEVER use ‘to’ after should:

  • We should get together more often


The negative is ‘should not’, which we frequently contract:

  • You should not leave your car in neutral
  • They shouldn’t eat so much sugar


In the question, we invert ‘should’ and the subject:

  • Should they charge for emergency room visits?


In this way we can also use ‘ought to’ but with the following limitations. We don’t really use it in negative or questions, and we normally only use it in present:

  • I ought to do more exercise
  • You ought to study a little more


Because we say ‘ought to’ it often confuses students and tempts them to say ‘should to’. Remember, we DON’T say ‘should to’. It is often used in informal English, and often said in a very compact way:

  • I [otta] go


‘Had better’ is used for a threat or a warning.  It is stronger than ‘should’ and implies consequences if the action is (or is not) carried out:

  •  ‘You had better be at the meeting’ implies there will be problems – you will be fired? – if you are not


Often we use ‘or else’ or ‘otherwise’ to introduce the consequences:

  • You had better pay the fine or else it will double
  • He had better close the garage, otherwise somebody will steal his bicycle


The negative is ‘had better not’.

  • You had better not cross the train tracks when the barrier is down


Like with ‘should’ we don’t use ‘to’ after ‘had better’. For some reason, students often use the affirmative correctly, but then add ‘to’ in the negative.


i360-by-diverbo-useful-vocabulary  VOCABULARY

To get together = reunirse, juntarse
Neutral = punto muerto
To charge = cobrar
Emergency room = urgencias
To carry out = llevar a cabo


02/08/2016Level - difficulty 2United StatesAudioText13 min