Had Better

“Had better” is normally used with infinitive without to to give advice about specific situations or make recommendations. We use the same form for present, past or future without changing the ‘had’ into ‘have’.

The short form is ‘d better.

Ex: You’d better go to school now.

       We’d better tell her all about it.

The negative form is “had better not”:

Ex: You’d better not tell her anything about our plan.

        We’d better not be late for the meeting.

         They’d better not forget about mum’s birthday.

The question form of “had better” is made by inverting the subject and had. This has the same meaning as “should”, but is more formal:

Ex: Had we better set up earlier tomorrow morning? It might rain in the afternoon.

Had we better leave her a message so she knows we’re coming?


Shall & Will

Both ‘Shall’ and ‘Will’ are modal verbs used to express future tense.

If you’ve  ever had any doubts whether to use shall or will in the Simple Future Tense, WILL is used for all persons in both singular and plural.

We will begin to work in September.

How long do you think this heat will last?

The shops will be open at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.

However, in more formal English, there is a rule which states that we should use SHALL in the first person only for phrases referring to offers and suggestions.

It’s so hot! Shall I open the window?

Shall we go? I’m tired.

Modal Verbs of Ability

Can / Be able to (ability in the present/future)

‘Can’ is more usual and less formal than ‘be able to’ when talking about the present or future. Ann can type fast.

I can pay you next week. (usual)

I will be able to pay you next week. (less usual)

Was able to (= managed to do) (ability in the past) is used for either repeated or single actions.

I was able to go on a trip round the city last week. (single action)

Could (ability in the past)

‘Could’ is more usual than ‘was able to.’ It is used in statements for repeated actions.

However, with the verbs see, hear, smell, understand, etc. we normally use ‘could’ for single actions.

She could / was able to play the violin when she was six. (repeated action)

I could smell something burning. (single action)

Could / Was able to can both be used in negations and questions for either repeated or single actions.

She couldn’t / wasn’t able to pass her driving test. (past single action)

Were you able to / Could you get to work every day’ last week? (past repeated action)

Can is used in the present.

Could is the past tense of can. We use be able to form for all the other tenses.

I will be able to get a job when I finish school.


Do the quiz below to check your knowledge:

Quiz: Modal Verbs of Ability: CAN/COULD/BE ABLE TO