Note: This post is about incorrect speech. Please see the disclaimer near the top of  my first speech post here.

It was not until recently that I became aware of yet another unfortunate habit in speech that is apparently more common than I realized. It involves usage of the verb “to need” in conjunction with the past-tense form of another verb.

Rather than explain, I’ll simply illustrate with the following examples:

“The car needs fixed.”
“The laudry needs washed.”
“The shed needs built.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
I was shocked to find that many people do not hear the flaws in these sentences. Even more shocked that throughout the US, and especially in Northern England and Scotland, usage of this torturous transgression is rampant.

To emphasize the violation, let me demonstrate by replacing “need” with a verb of similar usage, “to want”:

“The child wants fed.”
“The dog wants walked.”
“My mother wants loved.”

Now do you hear it? Fortunately, I have not yet encountered this revolting use of “want” yet. May that always be true.

Just in case you still don’t see the error, let me break it down for you.

The word, “need” implies a lack or want of something, in other words, a state that does not yet exist.

Yet the “-ed” forms of the verbs that follow “need” in the examples above, are past tense, implying something that has already occurred.

In other words, these sentences are temporal impossibilities. How can there be a lack of a quality that you are referring to in the past tense? How can you need something that has already been done?

For those of you that use this phraseology – Don’t panic! There are two perfectly acceptable ways of saying what you need to say. Isn’t that great? You even have options.

Option #1 – If you like the past tense option, you can still use it, just inject a simple “to be” in the middle.

“The car needs to be fixed.”
“The laundry needs to be washed.”
“The shed needs to be built.”

For you amateur grammarians who want more understanding, this usage is the progressive form of the future perfect tense, and is specific to the use of verbs like want and need.

Option #2 – If you don’t like adding two syllables to the sentence (as in Option #1), you have the option of only adding one (and you get to use a gerund!). Simply convert the past tense verb to its gerund, which ends in “-ing.”

“The car needs fixing.”
“The laundry needs washing.”
(I would not use this option with the shed example above. Mostly because sheds are buildings and to say, “The shed needs building,” is simply ridiculous. So use Option #1.)

There you have it! Simple solutions to keep you sounding educated and well spoken.
Believe me, phraseology of this type needs fixing. So fix it.

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