In all of the resources I use (incl Genki, A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, various websites), the ~ほうがいい construction is nearly universally translated "had better ~" and rarely includes the word "should ~". This is while noting that ~ほうがいい is a polite suggestion. Nearly all example sentences I find use the translation "had better ~".

As a native speaker of English (Eastern Canada), the phrase "You'd better ~" rings quite assertive and somewhat condescending, and in polite speech I would rarely elect to use that phrase over "should". In fact, "You'd better ~" would be reserved for people I was familiar and casual with.

Is it wrong to translate the phrase ~ほうがいい as "should" in the typical case, or to use it where I would use "should" in English?

1 Answer 1


This is one of the Seven Wonders of English Education in Japan of which my poor English is a product.

Long story short, I can guarantee as an average native Japanese speaker that 「~~ほうがいい」 is closer in both meaning and nuance to "should" than to "had better".

I was taught the complete opposite in junior high school in Japan (I was indeed taught "had better" sounded softer than "should") and it took me 7-8 years to realize that I was taught wrong. I had a chance to speak with a few Americans when I was around 21 about this matter and every one of them told me with confidence that what we had been taught was incorrect.

Assuming that the authors of your textbooks have received the same type of English education in Japan, the topic that you have brought up this time would only be a natural result. They are simply teaching you what they have been taught.

Once again, 「(Verb) + ほうがいい」 with no context (and said with no sarcasm), is closer to "should + (verb)". A phrase such as 「絶対{ぜったい} + (Verb) + べきだ」 is close to "had better (Verb)".

I think that the word "better" innocently lead our nation into believing that 「ほうがいい」 was the appropriate translation, which would actually be "true" if it were just "better" instead of the more idiomatic "had better".

  • 1
    "the word...innocently leads our nation into believing..." That just made me smile. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 3:10

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