Grammar Question – need

I would like to ask you if you can explain to me the verb “need”.
The more sources I check, the more confused I get. My problem is that
I’m not sure if that verb is ever used as a modal verb. I have actually
never heard of anybody using this verb as a modal verb but on the other
hand, some websites and some grammar books i checked say that “need”
belongs to modal verbs. I know for sure that Shakespeare used it that
way, but…
Please explain it to me.

Now that’s a difficult question you have asked 😉

Need can be both an ordinary and a modal verb.

However,

  • the modal form is rarely used in American English
  • the modal form is not used in the positive form – only in negatives, with certain ‘negative words’ and questions
  • the modal form is only used in the present

Here are some good examples of the modal form.

Nobody need know what happened.
I hardly need tell you that what you did was wrong.
You needn’t come. It’s not important.
Need I say any more?

Of course, the exact same ideas can be expressed using the ordinary verb.

Nobody needs to know what happened.
I don’t really need to tell you what you did was wrong.
You don’t need to come. it’s not important.
Do I need to say more?

The modal verb is more often used when we are talking about a personal necessity and not an obligation posed from outside.

So it’s better (at least in British English) to say

You needn’t apologise. It’s fine.
Need I come? (You are hoping the answer will be ‘no’.)

6 thoughts on “Grammar Question – need”

  1. Hi Sir, I’d like to ask a question about the grammer structure of am/is/are to + verb and was/were to verb. I am not able to understand the purpose/meaning of this structure. Please give me some examle about how I can use it and what it means. Thank you in advance. Nevin

    1. The usual idea of to be + to infinitive is to talk about definite plans and arrangements in the future.

      * The election is to take place on October 2nd.
      * Sarah is to start her new job on the first of December.

      We can also use ‘going to’ for future plans and the present continuous for future arrangements. By using this form, we are emphasizing the DEFINITE nature of the plan or arrangement.

      We can use it to talk about past plans.

      * He was to start last Monday but he changed his mind at the last minute.
      * The carnival was to take place in February but it was canceled because of the floods.

      The past form can also be used to describe fate or what happened later.

      * The peace talks were to end in failure when the sides couldn’t agree.
      * Simon was to die before he achieved his objective.

      Sometimes, it can mean a duty, the same as ‘must’.

      * You are to arrive by 8.30 at the latest.
      * I am to remind you that no smoking is permitted in the building.

  2. The explanation you provided is excellent and really I am very gratifull to this clarification
    Hoping to continue reading your articles in this field
    Thank you very much and best regards

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