Need to

Need to – modal auxiliary

Modal auxiliaries are helping verbs that connect with normal/ordinary verbs to express a meaning, ask a question or negate. Modal auxiliaries are never used with the main auxiliaries; be, have and do, and do not make sense on their own, therefore, they must be connected with a normal verb in order to make sense. Here, we are going to elaborate on the modal auxiliary verb, need to.

Do modal auxiliaries change form?

Modal verbs never change form (they cannot be conjugated). (Note that modal auxiliaries are never followed by ‘to’ before the infinitive, except with, need to, ought to and dare to).

Need to is used both as an auxiliary and an ordinary very. We use ‘need to‘ to express necessity

Auxiliary form (need to): 

  • He needn’t smoke so much, it’s really bad for his health.
  • We really need to learn another language apart from English.
  • You need to wait at a red light.

Ordinary form (need): 

  • I think you’ll find that you have everything you need in the new office.
  • Whatever you need just let me know.
  • They desperately need my help now.

English Verbs – The Complete Guide

Lesson #15: Need to

Explanation

  • Need to is used both as a modal auxiliary verb and a normal verb. The main use of ‘need to’ is to express necessity or requirements that we need. ‘Need to’ as an auxiliary verb: He needs to go to the supermarket. Silvia needs to buy a new car. ‘Need to’ in the previous examples functions as a modal auxiliary verb or a helping verb because it goes before the normal verbs; go and buy. Now, ‘need’ (without ‘to’) as a normal verb: I have everything that I need. They need my help. ‘Need’ in these examples functions as an ordinary verb because it’s not ‘helping’ or modifying anything in the sentences.
  • Need to is also used to give strong advice and suggestions. We can also use ‘have to’, ‘must’, and ‘should’ to give strong advice and suggestions.

Context

  • Do you know what I really need, Frankie?1
  • What?
  • I need to go on vacation.2 I desperately need a holiday ASAP.3,4
  • Come on! You don’t really need a vacation that bad.5 When was the last time you went on vacation?
  • It’s been over a year now.6
  • Well, you have a point. That’s a fairly long time.7 Why has it been so long since you’ve taken a vacation, then?8
  • Last year, my wife gave birth9 and I had to take care of our new-born baby.
  • Oh, is it a boy or a girl?10
  • He’s a boy. His name is Samuel.
  • How amazing! Wow!11 You never mentioned that. Well, it sounds like you really do need a vacation.12

Analysis

  1. Do you know what I really need, Frankie? ‘Need’, in this question is a normal verb, not a modal auxiliary verb. If ‘need’ is not followed by ‘to’ then it’s considered an ordinary/normal verb.
  2. I need to go on vacation. ‘Need to’ is followed by the ordinary verb ‘go’ thus making it a modal auxiliary verb and expressing necessity. You could also say: I have to go on vacation.
  3. I desperately need a holiday ASAP. ‘Need’, in this example doesn’t take ‘to’, and is not followed by a verb, thereby making it an ordinary verb. ‘Need’ in this example expresses necessity.
  4. I desperately need a holiday ASAP. ‘ASAP’ is an acronym and it stands for ‘as soon as possible’.
  5. You don’t really need a vacation that bad. The auxiliary verb in this phrase is ‘do’. ‘Do’ is followed by the ordinary verb ‘need’. ‘Need’ is not followed by ‘to’, therefore it’s an ordinary verb.
  6. It’s been over a year now. The present perfect (have/has + past participle), which in this example is ‘has (‘s) + been’ is used because the experience of not going on vacation still lasts until the present moment. That’s why the present perfect is used instead of the past simple.
  7. That’s a fairly long time. The word ‘fairly’ is a very common adverb of degree along with ‘rather’, ‘quite’, and ‘little’. These adverbs of degree alter the degree to which something happens. I.e., She’s rather/fairly/quite tall. These adverbs in particular are very common in English. Remember, adverbs modify adjectives, verbs and other adverbs.
  8. Why has it been so long since you’ve taken a vacation, then? The adverb ‘since’, along with ‘for’ are very common to talk about the past, but ‘since’ describes a point in time, while ‘for’ describes a duration of time. I.e., I haven’t seen you since April. (‘April’ is a point in time). I haven’t seen you for two years. (‘Two years’ is a duration of time). In the original example, ‘been so long’ describes a duration of time, and not a point in time.
  9. Last year, my wife gave birth. When the noun ‘birth’ is used, it collocates/goes with the verb ‘give’. I.e., When are you due to give birth? I should be giving birth in March next year.
  10. Oh, is it a boy or a girl? The interjection oh is basically just an utter word that can describe any sort of reaction such as, freight, surprise etc. Interjections have no grammatical meaning, but their usage in English is in abundance.
  11. How amazing! Wow! The word ‘wow’ is an example of another interjection.
  12. Well, it sounds like you really do need a vacation. ‘Need’ in this sentence functions as an ordinary verb because it is not followed by the preposition ‘to’.

See also: