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"He better" vs "He had better", drives me nuts, which is correct?


Jason R. Peters:
Like most writers, I'm usually the local grammarian, but this one has me stumped.

It seems that older fiction almost always contains the phrase, "He had better _____" as a colloquialism, in the context of, "He should ________."


"He had better learn.'
"You had better try harder."
"She had better listen."

But in recent fiction, I am finding this form more common:

"He better learn."
"You better try harder."
"She better listen."

Because I'm accustomed to the former, the latter sounds something like nails on a chalkboard to me, but I can't identify why it's "wrong", at least any more so than the other version.

I am tempted to argue that "better" needs the helping verb "have", but "better" is not a verb.

I mean, compound voices like present perfect simple qualify as helping/auxiliary verbs: "He has played football." But this is two verbs. Some of the online articles (taken with grains of salt) claim that "he had better" is the correct/complete form, and "he better" is incorrect. But I haven't found any offered reasoning behind this.

In my Wheel of Time reread, I'm finding both forms. I have also seen both forms in Sanderson fiction and most modern writers.

It drives me crazy, though arguably sometimes it is intended to mimic grammatically incorrect speaking; however, the characters' other phrases are not noticeably ungrammatical, with the exception of sentence fragments (which in modern fiction are practically unavoidable, especially in dialog).

What do you say? Which is correct, and why? Does the "wrong" version bother anyone as much as it bothers me?

Check with Grammar Girl. I'm too lazy to right now, but if she doesn't have an article on it, you can always ask her and see if she answers. It's probably one of those things that no longer has a right or wrong. Plus, if it's a colloquialism, there is no grammatically correct version they're both improper slang, so to speak.

Peter Ahlstrom:
Both of these are colloquial usages that reflect how people actually talk, which changes over time. Neither one bothers me.

Jason R. Peters:

--- Quote from: Peter Ahlstrom on July 13, 2011, 05:49:47 PM ---Both of these are colloquial usages that reflect how people actually talk, which changes over time. Neither one bothers me.

--- End quote ---

Aren't you obligated to say that, since Mr. Sanderson uses both?  :o

I don't mind either in dialog, but in prose the "wrong" one is irritating.

Or should I say:

It weren't nothing but a thang when folks is conversin' and whatnot, but I 'spect more bettar words frum teh textperts in there prose. They better learnt!

Peter Ahlstrom:
I'm not sure where that construction would appear in prose, unless it's in narration closely connected to a character's thoughts, which is pretty much the same thing as dialogue.


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