English Lesson: Modals “Need to” & “Had Better”

Michael Uncategorized 9 Comments

I need to quit smoking

Modal Verbs can be tricky, so I though I would help you guys understand them. Let’s look at need to and had better today!

The other day, I showed you how to use must and have to. Today, I’d like to continue the conversation about models and look at need to and had better.

Like must and have to, need to is also used to talk about what is necessary. The basic difference between need to, and must & have to, is where the necessity comes from. Generally, with must and have to, the necessity comes from someone other than ourselves.  However we use need to when we talk about personal requirements. With need to the necessity comes from ourselves. Compare the following examples:

  • When you travel abroad, you have to have a passport. The necessity comes from the law
  • You must not drink and drive. The necessity comes from the law.
  • I need to go on a diet. I’m getting too heavy. The necessity comes from myself.

I like to think that with must and have to the necessity comes from outside me, and with need to,  the necessity comes from inside me. You can use has need to when you make the rules or plan for yourself:

  • I need to exercise more.
  • Jack said he needs to get a new computer.
  • We need to leave by 5:00 in order to get to the station on time.

Had better is used when we give someone a warning. Had better means, if you don’t do it, something bad will happen.

  • You had better dry your hair before going out. If you don’t you will catch a cold.
  • You have had a bad headache for two weeks? You had better see a doctor.
  • You had better do all of your homework, otherwise you will not pass the course.

Be careful! Sometimes, people use had better to + verb, as in “you had better to stop smoking,” but using to after you had better is not correct. You can use to after better in a sentence like this: “It is better to visit NYC in the spring,” but you can’t say had better to ~

What do you need to do today? Leave a comment and let me know 🙂

Enter email address:


If you know anyone who has trouble with this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them.

Thanks for studying today!