Friday, October 22, 2010

I Didn't Need to Do It

The word 'need' is very common in the English language. It appears as a noun, verb and modal verb. However, its use as a modal verb is mostly found in British usage.

They need not (needn't) go there.[BrE] = They don't need to go there. (It's not necessary for them to go there.)

Need he leave so early?[BrE] = Does he need to leave so early? (Is it necessary for him to leave so early?)

All you need bring is your passport.[BrE] = All you need to bring is your passport. (Your passport is the only thing you have to bring.)

Even in British English, the modal verb is only employed in questions and negative statements, or in affirmative statements where the required action is relatively small. Although the patterns marked 'BrE' don't occur so often in American English, certain fixed expressions like 'Need I say more?' may be exceptions.

With constructions referring to the past, care must sometimes be taken to avoid misunderstandings:

She need not (needn't) have cooked.[BrE] = She didn't need to cook. (It hasn't been necessary for her to cook though she has done so; she cooked probably because she didn't know it was unnecessary.)
She didn't need to cook. (She didn't have to cook; she didn't cook because it was unnecessary.)

The form 'didn't need to' can have two meanings, as seen above. Those who use British English can avoid this ambiguity by opting for the 'need not have' pattern when someone has done something that was unnecessary.    

(Image Credit: istolethetv)


  1. This is a big lesson in my side. there are small problem how to use this for be verbs as there is the helping verb "DO"'. I will try to catch it.. thank you Sujeewa sir..

    1. There's no other helping verb in patterns like 'You need not be worried' as 'need' itself is the modal (helping verb) here. The question form will be 'Need you be worried?' But keep in mind that this is no longer used so often.


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