The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic in English these days. Is the omission of the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process? What part of speech or function does "better" serve here?
Chrissy
1 2
The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic in English these days. Is the omission of the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process?

"Had"? I have always thought that"would" is the missing one.
What part of speech or function does "better" serve here?

Adverb.
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Javi
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The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic ... the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process?

"Had"? I have always thought that"would" is the missing one.

Definitely "had". It's a hard construction to explain. Let me just paste some 19th century examples from the 543 hits at Mastertexts.com, to prove that it's been around for a while:
(Dickens) which gives her occasion to say that he had better not ask
(Hardy) it was hinted to her that she had better wait till the law was known.
(Bram Stoker) I suppose I had better begin by telling you all I know
(J. Verne) But we had better push on now
(Wilde) You had better take care.
Mastertexts finds only one "would better", from R.L. Stevenson:

If you were more trustful, it would better befit your time of life.

Merriam-Webster points out that "had better" is related to "had best", which sounds a bit dated to me, though maybe it's current in the UK. A few examples:
(Austen) if you would just advise me what I had best do

(Thackeray) "I suppose I had best warm both the young gentlemen's beds, Ma'am," says Betsinda.
(Dickens) I think we had best not speak to him just now

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The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic in English these days. Is the omission of the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process? What part of speech or function does "better" serve here?

I'd say it's beyond "almost". It must be more than twenty years since The Who sang "You better, you bet".
Adrian
The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic in English these days. Is the omission of the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process?

I always thought it was "We'd better go now" and people were swallowing the 'd.
Someone else Javi maybe said it was an adverb. Since it's in some way modifying a verb, he must be right.

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I always thought it was "We'd better go now" and people were swallowing the 'd. Someone else Javi maybe said it was an adverb. Since it's in some way modifying a verb, he must be right.

Ah, just like the "should" in "We should go now"?
-Aaron J. Dinkin
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"Had"? I have always thought that"would" is the missing one.

Definitely "had". It's a hard construction to explain. Let me just paste some 19th century examples from the 543 hits ... both the young gentlemen's beds, Ma'am," says Betsinda. (Dickens) I think we had best not speak to him just now

*Merriam-Webster's Collegiate,* 11th ed., shows the "best" in "had best" and the "better" in "had better" as having developed into verbal auxiliaries:
(quote)
Main Entry: 5best
Function: verbal auxiliary
Date: 1914
had best

Main Entry: 5better
Function: verbal auxiliary
Date: 1831
had better
(end quote)
The AHD4 treats the longer expression in each case as an idiom which resembles a verbal auxiliary:
From the entry for "have" at
http://www.bartleby.com/61/65/H0086500.html
(quote)
IDIOMS: had better* (or *best) Usage Problem To be wise or obliged to; should or must: He had better do what he is told. You had best bring a raincoat in this weather.

USAGE NOTE: The idioms had better and had best resemble an auxiliary verb in that their form never changes to show person or tense and that they cannot follow another verb in a phrase. In informal speech, people tend to omit had, especially with had better, as in You better do it. In formal contexts and in writing, however, had or its contraction must be preserved: You had better do it or You'd better do it.

(end quote)

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
The construction "We better go now" is now almost idiomatic ... the "had" an example of ellipsis or some other process?

I always thought it was "We'd better go now" and people were swallowing the 'd. Someone else Javi maybe said it was an adverb. Since it's in some way modifying a verb, he must be right.

Probably, but it's such an idiomatic, that it's hard to tell. It doesn't really add much to our understanding of the going How? When? Where? Why?. Really it's saying "We stand better going than staying" so it almost has adjectival force.
Cheers
Chrissy
*Merriam-Webster's Collegiate,* 11th ed., shows the "best" in "had best" and the "better" in "had better" as having developed into verbal auxiliaries:

But they don't list the negative "bettn't" (or "bett'n't"), which I've only encountered from British writers.

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