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Double-click on any word and see its definition from Cambridge Dictionaries Online.

Practise with a grammar game

Firstly, need can be used as an ordinary verb, meaning "must have". The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines it as such:

need (MUST HAVE) verb to have to have (something) or to want (something) very much

Children need a good balanced diet. [T]
I need some new winter shoes. [T]
Do we need anything from the shops? [T]
You need a lot of stamina to run that sort of distance. [T]
To make pastry, you need flour, fat and water. [T]
Will I be needed in the office tomorrow? [T]
I need you (=want you very much). [T]
I need (=very much want) you to advise me on what to wear tomorrow night. [T + obj + to infinitive]
I badly need (=strongly want) a rest from all this. [T]

When used as an ordinary verb, need is formed as follows:

I/you/we/they need
He/she/it needs
I/you/we/they don't need
He/she/it doesn't need
Do I/you/we/they need?
Does he/she/it need?

But in British English, need can also be used as a modal verb. As with other modal verbs, there is no "s" with the 3rd person singular, and questions and negatives are made without "do":

This is the only thing I/you/he/she/it/we/they need do.
I/you/he/she/it/we/they needn't come tomorrow - it isn't necessary.
Need I/you/he/she/it/we/they really do it?

The difference between need as an ordinary verb and as a modal verb is the time we are referring to. Compare the two following sentences:

You needn't come in to work today if you are feeling well.
You don't need to work on weekends, because the office is closed.

The first sentence is referring to a situation that is (not) necessary in the immediate future. The second is referring to something that is generally (not) necessary.

In the past, needn't can be followed by the perfect infinitive (have + past participle):

He needn't have gone in to work today, as the boss decided to close the office.

This structure refers to something that was done, but was not necessary. Compare with:

He did not need to go in to the office today.

This structure just means that the action or situation was not necessary - it does not indicate whether or not it was actually done.

Also, needn't can be used to talk about a situation where there is no obligation involved:

She needn't visit my aunt and uncle = it is not necessary to visit them.

Compare this to the use of must not:

She must not visit my aunt and uncle = there is an obligation not to visit them.

To see many examples of the use of need, see the Web Concordancer. Type need, needn't or need not into the 'search string' field, select any corpus in the 'select corpus' field, and then click on the 'search for concordances' button.

More information about need:


Exercises with need:


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