grammarGRAMMAR


Is Need A Model Verb?


Need may function both as a modal verb and as an ordinary verb.

1. When need behaves like a modal verb, it is commonly used in the negative form (i.e., needn't) or in affirmative statements with a negative sense (i.e., no one need worry).

Like any other modal verb, it is followed by a bare infinitive (i.e., infinitive without "to") and expresses the absence of obligation or necessity.

2. When need behaves as the main verb, it is inflected. For example, it takes an "s" in the third person singular (i.e., he, she, and it) and "ed" in the simple past:

  • He needs help.
  • He needed help.

In the interrogative and negative forms, it is used with the auxiliaries do, does, and did:

  • Do you need help?
  • Does he need help?
  • Did you need help?

Before continuing the lesson, it is important to have a clear understanding of modal verbs:

  • What are they?
  • And how do they differ from ordinary verbs?

What are modal verbs?

Typically, modal verbs are used with the bare infinitive to indicate ability, prohibition, obligation, possibility, permission, etc.

  • They are never inflected; you can't add "s", "ed", "ing"...
  • They are always followed by a bare infinitive (i.e., an infinitive without "to)

Here are some examples:

  • I can speak German.
  • You mustn't smoke in the hospital
  • You should see a doctor.
  • He might come to the party.
  • May I go?

Is need a modal verb?

Need may be used both as a modal verb and as a main verb.

Look at the following examples:

  1. A: Do you need some help? B: "Yes I do. I need someone to help me with this math exercise."
  2. You needn't take your umbrella. It is not raining.
  3. Need he lock the drawer?

In example number 1, need is used as an ordinary verb.

In examples number 2 and 3, need is used as a modal verb.

Need as a modal verb

How do you use need as a modal verb?

Need as a modal verb behaves very much like must, should, or can.

Form of need as a modal verb

Affirmative

Need is usually used in the negative form, needn't. But if it is ever used in affirmative statements, it is generally used with negative words or phrases such as not everybody, no one, nobody, only, never, hardly:

  • No one need do the shopping.
  • Not everybody need come.
  • He need only wait.
  • She need only call me and I will come.

Negative

In the negative form, not is added to need ( i.e., need not or needn't)

  • You needn't send the email.
  • She needn't apologize.
  • They need not justify their attitude.

Interrogative

Question forms are formed by the inversion of the subject and the modal verb need:

  • Need I lock the door?
  • Need he call the doctor?

Note that this is a very formal way to ask questions with need.

Affirmative No one need lock the door.
Negative They needn't lock the door
Interrogative Need they Lock the door?

Use of need as a modal verb

Need is used to express lack of necessity or obligation:

  • You needn't call him. He is coming in person.
  • You needn't read this book. I'll summarize it for you.
  • You needn't water the grass.

Note: Need as a modal verb is not put in the past tense (i.e., needed). Didn't need to is used instead to express no obligation in the past:

  • I didn't need to water the grass. It had rained heavily before.

Note that in this case, need behaves like any main verb. It takes the auxiliary verb did and is followed by an infinitive with "to": to water.

Need as an ordinary verb

When need is used as an ordinary verb:

  • It takes "s" in the third person singular: he needs a job.
  • It takes "ed" in the simple past and past participle: he needed a job.
  • In the negative form, the auxiliary verb "didn't" is used: He didn't need it.
  • In the interrogative form, "did" is used: did you need a job?
  • It may be followed by an infinitive with "to": he needed to find a job.

Look at the following table to see how need is used as a main verb:

SIMPLE PRESENT
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I need to do it. I do not need to do it. Do I need to do it?
You need to do it. You do not need to do it. Do you need to do it?
He/she needs to do it. He/she does not need to do it. Does he need to do it?
We do not need to do it. We do not need to do it. Do we need to do it?.
They do not need to do it. They do not need to do it. Do they need to do it?
SIMPLE PAST
Affirmative Negative Interrogative
I need to go. I do not need to go. Do I need to go?
You need to go. You do not need to go. Do you need to go?
He/she needs to go. He/she does not need to go. Does he need to go?
We do not need to go. We do not need to go. Do we need to go?.
They do not need to go. They do not need to go. Do they need to go?

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