Ask Giff: You’d better!

Our question this week is from a reader and writer who’s concerned about the difference between “You’d better” and “You better”.

Question:  I’ve read suspense novels by two different best-selling authors in the couple of weeks. While writing my own suspense novel, I’ve used the phrase “You’d better (do such and so)”.  But one of these authors uses the phrase “You better” instead.  Which one is correct?

Answer:  There’s no clear-cut right and wrong here.  It usually depends on when a person was educated, and there are also regional differences.

Anyone who attended school prior to the 1970s, would probably have learned to say “You’d better” (short for “You had better”).  Today, with education’s emphasis on science, computers and math, young people usually use “You better”.  The second phrase is gaining quite a wide acceptance.

In my personal experience, I’ve noticed that those of any age who are from the South and the Mid-West usually say “you better”.  It’s pretty popular in New York City as well. I can’t speak for other areas of the country as I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting them.

So the question isn’t which one is right. It’s how deliberate you want your characters to be with their language. And for different characters, the answer might be different. If your character is the CEO of a major corporation, she’ll probably say “you’d better”. But a teenage character would probably not.

And when you come down to it,  “You’d better” doesn’t actually make more sense than “You better”. Truth is, the traditional meaning of “better” as a verb is to improve or exceed, and that’s not how we’re using it in either case.  Yet everyone knows what we mean when we say it.

Conclusion: While “You’d better” may add some tone to a character, there really isn’t a right or wrong these days. I don’t think readers are going to be upset or put off by either usage.

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