the difference between words: should, have to and had better


Today, I would like to write about something which is confusing for many people: “should”, “have to” and “had better”. We use “should” when we want to say something is a good idea, but that there is a choice. For example:

I’m not good at playing the piano. I should practice more often.

If you have the hiccups, you should drink a glass of water.

I can’t save much money. I shouldn’t go out for dinner so much.

We use “have to” when we must do something and we DON’T have a choice. For example:

I have to be at work by 9:00 am every morning.

We have to hand in our reports to the teacher on Friday.

I’m sorry, but I can’t have dinner with you on Sunday. I have to help my friend move.

The expression “had better” is commonly misunderstood. It is used when we want to say that we have a choice about doing something, but that if we don’t do it, we are going to have a problem. For example:

My test is in two days. I’d better start studying for it right away. (This means that if I don’t start studying for it right away, I’m going to fail the test.)

The boss is coming! You’d better get back to work! (This means that if you don’t get back to work, the boss will be very angry.)

My boyfriend was late the last time we had a date. He’d better not be late for our date tonight! (This means that if he’s late, she’ll be very angry.)

Sometimes, “have to” can be used as a strong recommendation. For example:

If you ever go the Paris, you have to go to the Louvre museum!

A: I don’t watch “Lost”.

B: Oh really?! It’s an amazing show! You have to start watching it!

In these examples, the person has a choice about going to the Louvre museum or watching the show “Lost”, but the other person is making the recommendation very strongly.


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