" Need" as a modal


When can we consider "need" as a modal ? I've read about it in a book which cosnsiders "need" as a modal if it is not followed by "to" and otherwise it is considered as a main verb. Is this true?

asked May 31 '12 at 15:13 jojo New member

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I'm with Tolley on this one.  In addition to what modals are, they do not take -s in the third person singular.  Need does take -s, with or without to following it.

She needs new shoes.

She needs to buy new shoes.

link answered May 31 '12 at 15:40 Jody M. Expert

Is there certain cases For the verb "need" to be a modal or "need" cannot be a modal at all ?

jojoMay 31 '12 at 15:59

As I said below in my comment to Rahul, "need" as a modal is archaic. In British English it may be more regular. Instead of saying, "Need he change his clothes?" we most often say "should" in place of "need". The same is true in the use of "dare".

TolleyMay 31 '12 at 16:13

Again, I agree with Tolley. In each of Rahul's examples I would use "should". Why use "need" as a modal when actual modals (should, could, would) work just fine?

Jody M.May 31 '12 at 16:55

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Yes, Need is used as Modal.


Need behaves as a modal verb, like can, could, must should, etc. It has the same forms as modal auxiliary verbs: the third person singular has no "s", questions and negatives are made without do. In this format, need is followed by an infinitive without to:

You needn't bother to change the sheets. I'll sleep in them later.
Need I lock the door when I leave? ~ No, you needn't. Sam will be home soon.


In this sense, we are talking more about obligation and giving permission to someone not to do something. Note also that as a modal verb it is most commonly used in negative sentences and sometimes in questions.


Now, your question.


It is truely said:

When need is used as modal, there comes verb in the basic form (bare infinitive).


When need is used as main verb, verb comes with to.

link answered May 31 '12 at 16:02 Rahul Gupta Expert

Rahul, I think your source is quite outdated. There was a time when "need" and "dare" were used regularly as auxiliary verbs. This was the only sense in which "need" could be seen as a modal verb. One example would be, "Need he get a haircut?" Now we would use "should" in that sense. I am sure the usage is more common in British English, but the usage is archaic.

TolleyMay 31 '12 at 16:11

Yes, I agree that they are used in British English specially in negative and interrogative sentences.

Rahul GuptaJun 01 '12 at 07:00

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