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"to be" or not "to be"
September 21, 2011 9:46 AM   Subscribe

"To be" or not "to be"? That is the question!

My husband teases me relentlessly about leaving the phrase "to be" out of sentences, such as "This kitty litter box needs changed". He tends to either correct me "this kitty litter box needs to be changed" or just smirk in my general direction. "To be" superfluous or necessary?
posted by Jayed to Writing & Language (77 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
This kitty litter box needs changING?
posted by ian1977 at 9:47 AM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Necessary. What you're saying isn't English.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2011 [17 favorites]


This topic needs searched.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:51 AM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Are you from Pittsburgh, by chance? I think this is a regional dialect thing. But proper English requires "to be" or the "-ing" suffix suggested above.
posted by Grither at 9:51 AM on September 21, 2011 [16 favorites]


Is English your first language or not? If so, look up "language prescriptivism" and tell him to shove it. If it isn't, then you should probably make an effort to use to be since standard English grammar wants you to.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 9:51 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


*Shudder.* Sounds very, very strange to me.

There are lots of words you can leave out in casual, quick English, but not those, in my opinion.
posted by losvedir at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh! I read about this a couple of days ago. You're using the Pennsylvania or British form. Americans outside those areas find it completely foreign.
posted by fraac at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


What you're saying isn't English.

"Needs changed" is a well-known dialectal form. (Example to go with chesty_a_arthur's previously.)
posted by holgate at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's "incorrect" English but certainly not unheard of. This is actually a pretty common thing in Pennsylvania, particularly the Western parts. So, really, how "incorrect" is it? That's how real people talk, and they understand each other perfectly well, and it's consistent.

Language is how people talk, not how a rulebook says they should talk.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:52 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a not uncommon regional variant that a lot of people hate. I use it quite rarely, but don't find it objectionable.
posted by jeather at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2011


"This kitty litter box needs changed" is not correct. Either put in "to be" or make it "changing".

I think the more salient point is that your husband is teasing you relentlessly. He's correct, but that doesn't mean he's in the right. If you want to be correct from a prescriptivist POV, change it. If not, tell him to knock it off.
posted by supercres at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Your husband is a prescriptivist. While standard grammar says he's right and you're wrong, usage changes; you are part of the change; and perhaps some day your way will be fully accepted.
posted by beagle at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Having recently moved to Pennsylvania, yep, it's a regional thing. Sounds very weird to those of us who didn't grow up with it. My boss at my bookstore job told me something "needs shelved" and I had to ask him to repeat himself twice before I understood what he meant.
posted by coppermoss at 9:54 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


This has come up before (and I see chesty_a_arthur has pointed out another one). My wife uses it - I think she picked it up from her Scottish parents or their British friends. At first I thought it sounded odd, but now I find it endearing.
posted by flipper at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2011


I do this sometimes. It's just a dialect thing, although I'm not sure where I picked it up. I'm American (not Pennsylvanian though) but a bit of an Anglophile so maybe my childhood diet of PBS and Victorian kid lit had something to do with it.

Either tell your husband to deal with your linguistic idiosyncrasies or give back as good as you get with something harmless and strange he does, depending on the type of relationship you guys have. Regardless, you're not doing anything wrong - he can understand what you mean and that's what matters.
posted by Mizu at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2011


Whether 'tis nobler to the ear to suffer
The slings and arrows of omitted dialogue,
Or to take arms against a sea of pendants,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say "to be."
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That ears are heir to: 'tis a set of words
Devoutly wished be said. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to be—ay, there's the rub.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2011 [16 favorites]


I am the husband in question. I was raised in Detroit, lived in North Carolina, and now Montana, and never heard the phrasing my darling wife uses.

tell him to knock it off

Relax. I'm not an asshole, and she's not upset about it. My behavior doesn't need changed!
posted by The Deej at 9:57 AM on September 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


Next time, just tell him "I do thay husband, that the container of feline waste doth presente a most foul stench, and it should be patently obvious to thou that it needeth changed. Attendeth to it, post haste!"
posted by 4ster at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


coppermoss: "Having recently moved to Pennsylvania, yep, it's a regional thing."

Yes, this is one marker of a Pittsburgh native. Long after shedding the accent, I still struggle with remembering to use "to be" after "needs."
posted by Chrysostom at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, Jayed, are you a native English speaker? If so, then I'll change my vote and say it's allowable.

It screeches to my ears, but I guess it's a thing.
posted by losvedir at 10:01 AM on September 21, 2011


Also wanted to mention that I'm in Cleveland, and recently saw CATS NEED ADOPTED as a 11 o'clock news headline, which I found endearing on a variety of levels (I'm not from here.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:01 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think she picked it up from her Scottish parents or their British friends.

It's not a familiar construction to my British ears, which are attuned to a lot of dialectal quirks; I'd tend towards the suggestion in one of the previous threads (and Language Log) that it has an "Appalachian vector".
posted by holgate at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2011


Completely fine, at least to my pan-Canadian ears.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:05 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok... English is my first and only language, although I did grow up in Oklahoma, raised by a man who said as few words as possible to relay whatever information he had to, so maybe it is his fault (The southern drawl heard in most parts of Oklahoma is certainly contestable as English). Perhaps I have read too many books with a European dialect? In which case... most American's don't speak English... so I am right! Right? =P
posted by Jayed at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hear this all the time, and it bothers me. It's not "correct", but as others have pointed out, it's common enough that it is probably considered a dialect thing. Then again, "nucular" is also common, but I don't think it should become part of accepted English. They're both gross.
posted by RobotNinja at 10:13 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not gross; it's efficient.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 AM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hmmm. . . I'm from the Missouri Ozarks and this is a very common usage in my experience. I can't even imagine it needing corrected.
posted by General Tonic at 10:21 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, interesting that this usage occurs in parts of America. I'm very familiar with it from my travels in Northern Ireland. I can't go as far as to say it is not English, but it is certainly ungrammatical. (Why do people think that just because there is a word to describe prescriptivism, that makes it a bad thing? You don't have to be a prescriptivist, but do be aware that whining "that's prescriptivism" isn't an argument for anything.)

I personally don't like the usage, but if it's what you grew up with then it's perfectly understandable that you say it. I don't know how long he's been picking you up on it, but it's probably past time that he dropped it.

If being grammatically wrong offends you, though, then yes, I recommend unlearning the habit.
posted by nthdegx at 10:26 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was covered recently, in a blog post that went partially-viral.

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/needs-washed.aspx

Short form: Yes, you're wrong, but there's a whole history behind why you learned it that way, and how that blankets an entire region of the US.
posted by Citrus at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not a phrase I'd use in formal writing, but when speaking, eh, as long as you're understood. (I am an editor, but I try to wear my prescriptivist hat only when I'm getting paid for it.) Your husband should quit with the teasing if it bugs you.
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on September 21, 2011


Never heard it used by British English speakers, only ever by Americans. Maybe the people who are saying it's British/European mean as an anachronistic usage? It's certainly not in common use now.
posted by kadia_a at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


How can I tell when my septic tank needs emptied?

I'm from Western Pa, and this usage is the norm. And it is as correct as any other utterance by an English speaker. Maybe refer the hubby to: Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John Mcwhorter.
posted by mfoight at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2011


I'm not from Pennsylvania, but my husband spent some time out there in college. I've picked up this usage, but only with the verb "wants," and "needs" as in "That cat box wants scooped" or "The cat needs slopped."

Hmm. Come to think of it, I really only use this construction when talking about our cat.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:37 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It makes you sound approximately like someone who uses the abbreviation "ne1" for the word "anyone".
posted by anaelith at 10:41 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have heard it with some frequency but it still makes me feel like my skin is being peeled off of me and turned inside out.
posted by little cow make small moo at 10:55 AM on September 21, 2011


>it still makes me feel like my skin is being peeled off of me

This is why we have the word "from". "off of" needs remedied.
posted by scruss at 11:03 AM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


I hear it all of the time, but I have a diverse group of aquaintances. It doesn't bother me at all.
posted by patheral at 11:04 AM on September 21, 2011


It's a not uncommon regional variant that a lot of people hate.

Seconded.

It is a non-standard but not "incorrect" usage.

Do not use when you're the Visiting Team (job interview, courtroom, schoolwork, TV appearance, etc.). When you're the Home Team, you make the rules.

Variations like this keep what's left of regional cultures distinct and interesting, like the Cincinnati "Please?", meaning "please repeat what you said, I didn't quite catch it".

More:

The "car needs washed" construction features the elision of a logically necessary but conversationally superfluous part of the sentence. We all do this kind of thing all the time. Consider:

1. If you leave the door open, flies will get in.

2. If you leave the door open, then flies will get in.

Only programmers and bad technical writers write sentences like 2, and no one actually speaks like that. Logically, the "then" is needed, but language is not logic.

Your "car needs washed" is the same thing, but without the dog.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just want to weigh in on the "prescriptivist" - "descriptivist" debate. Currently, and actually for a long time now, any respectable professional linguist has ditched prescriptive attitudes about language. As nthdegx pointed out, you might say that there is a prescription making the rounds amongst experts that thou shalt not instruct native speakers of correct usage - of words, grammatical rules, pronounciation etc. As I understand it, the idea is that, unless you have severe developmental issues, the version of your language you pick up by growing up in a particular linguistc community is, by definition, correct. The linguist's task is to DESCRIBE usage (as opposed to prescribing it). So, for instance, if a linguist were interested in describing correct usage in your particular language variant, they might prompt you to use such constructions as "needs changing", "wants cleaned" (or any other dialectal usage), and then go on describing interesting structural/generative/transformative (not sure what the current details of the discussions are) issues surrounding this particular (correct by any expert standards) usage.

So, as long as it is used by a native speaker, any construction is inevitably, and by definition, correct.

However, there is another side to this, and one which is intentionally left out by hard-core linguists as not being within the scope of their enquiry (it is, however, studied by socio-linguistics), namely the relation between language use and socio-political factors. In short, the idea here is that not all language variants, or dialects, are equal from a social point of view at any given moment in time, and that there tends to be one amongst the existing variants which is strongly associated with current power structures - social, political, economic, and therefore frequently regarded as "correct". This idea has been around the block for quite a while now; in 1943 the linguist Max Weinreich encapsulates the social prominence and preference given to a variant which linguistically is equal to any other as follows: "A language is a dialect with an army and navy" .

So, whilst, linguistically speaking, the various dialects of English and their structures are all equally "correct", as soon as you take the issue out into the world matters might look somewhat different. Usage which is perceived as non-standard can put you at a disadvantage in certain situations (probably much less so these days, but still), might prompt your interlocutor to categorize you as less educated/intelligent etc. On the positive side (and depending on who you speak to), you might come across as more linguistically creative (after all, a lot of poetry relies on non-standard, even deviant, use of language), more rooted in a community, the "underdog" dialect might be intentionally used as a battle-flag by members of an underdog community, etc. Most of us actually switch between registers depending on the social context of the interaction.

I hope this offers some useful perspective on your conundrum without being entirely a derail. In a nutshell, you are both right - you, from a linguistics point of view, your husband from the above-mentioned socio-linguistics point of view. I'm not a linguist, but feel quite confident about the gist of the above. A proper linguist would probably add more insight.
posted by miorita at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


This language structure is common here in East Tennessee too. I suggest that, like "you'uns", this might be a feature of Appalachian English.
posted by workerant at 11:20 AM on September 21, 2011


From Chicago. Lived in California and Florida as well. Never heard this. In fact, I had to read the question twice as I thought I had either misread it, or you had made a typo.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:49 AM on September 21, 2011


> I can't go as far as to say it is not English, but it is certainly ungrammatical.

No it's not. This is a dialect form that is perfectly grammatical within the dialect but quite naturally sounds odd to people who haven't encountered it. "That sounds funny to me" is a fact about you and not about the usage in question. It is no more ungrammatical or un-English than the New Yorker's "on line" for everybody else's "in line."

> However, there is another side to this, and one which is intentionally left out by hard-core linguists as not being within the scope of their enquiry

This is also not true. Descriptivist or "hard-core" linguists (otherwise known as "linguists") routinely point out that nonstandard usages are widely considered inferior and for that reason should be avoided in contexts where one is likely to be judged (job interviews, etc.). But that is a social fact irrelevant to the facts of language as such; linguistically, all dialects are equal, and a usage that is native to a dialect is ipso facto not "incorrect."

Also, a note for you jokesters: "Wisecracks don't help people find answers. Thanks."
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on September 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


What miorita said. (A masterful synopsis of the prescriptivist / descriptivist issue, by the way).

Piittsburgh origin? Really? Wow! I've heard it in Virginia, Alaska and northern Wisconsin.

Intellectually I realize this usage is a colloquialism and no less valid than a thousand other dialect items in our constantly changing language. I confess to a strong gut reaction that it is WRONG and associated with people who neither think about what they're saying nor care about correctness. The feeling may be irrational, but it's hard to suppress.
posted by wjm at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, if I heard someone speaking like this (I never have in my entire life; I've lived in Massachusetts, Florida and Tennessee), I would assume the person is foreign, handicapped or uneducated.

The only reason why I would think this is because I've never heard anyone in my life speak like this except children and ESL people.

I've had many people tease me about my Boston accent and dialect in the past - it never bothered me.
It would be kind of hard to just change the way you've been speaking for xx years. But if you speak/type like this professionally, you may want to consider changing.

I'm glad I read this, though. If I ever do come across someone speaking like this, I won't have to wonder why.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2011


British, married to a Missourian who sometimes misses out a 'to be' here and there.

I'm surprised that people elsewhere in the USA don't do it. I assumed y'all spoke like that.
posted by BinaryApe at 12:58 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm late to this party, and there are already many excellent answers here. I just came in to Nth the sentiment that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the construction and that it doesn't need changed.

If it helps you, look at it this way: There are approximately a half-million native English speakers on the planet right now, and every single one of them speaks a particular dialect of the language. Some dialects may be closer to the standard than others, but all of them have their peculiarities (grammatical, lexical, phonological, or otherwise) that would seem strange to anyone not familiar with a particular dialect. Factor in the billion or so ESL/EFL speakers and it's easy to see that the number of people who consistently use Standard American English in daily conversation is a very small percentage of the total number of speakers.

Now you have reason to poke fun at your husband when he uses the standard. In the global English language community, he's in the minority.
posted by Kevtaro at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Piittsburgh origin? Really? Wow! I've heard it in Virginia, Alaska and northern Wisconsin.

Grammar Girl made a map.

It is found other places, but primarily within the Midland dialect region, which stretches from Kansas to Pennsylvania.

I'm in the Inland North (from Chicago originally), and although this sounds strange to me, I've actually caught myself using it occasionally now. I enjoy using odd constructions, though, such as irregular past tenses ("spring, sprang, sprung") that some people find ridiculous.

As to your husband, I had a friend from New York who found my pronunciation of "roof" so like a canine bark that she would tease me by barking back if I said it. By contrast, I couldn't stand when she would say "draw" instead of "drawer". Celebrate your differences.
posted by dhartung at 1:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm from southern Indiana, and did not realize until I read this thread that "this kitty litter needs changed" is non-standard; it sounds completely normal to me. I'm a college-educated, highly literate native speaker, for what it's worth.

It's certainly interesting to know that this little quirk "isn't English," makes peoples' skin crawl, and makes me sound like I'm handicapped.
posted by bookish at 1:05 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I grew up in Oklahoma also and never heard this used. Wouldn't be surprised if it's an urban vs. rural thing though.
posted by fishmasta at 1:30 PM on September 21, 2011


As an eastern Pennsylvanian, I have heard this from time to time. I cringe each time. Technically, it's part of your dialect. To me, it sounds uneducated (as does the Pittsburghian variant "yins"), so I think as long as you're aware of the standard form and that some people will look at you funny, go ahead and use it. I'm still gonna cringe when I hear it.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:46 PM on September 21, 2011


BAH! Non-standard grammar constructions are the spice of life!
posted by abirdinthehand at 8:44 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a Californian and my first thought was "that sounds quaint and old-timey" and then I read on and saw it's a Pittsburgh thing. My grandparents are from Pittsburgh, so I guess I associate it with old people (along with "warsh").
posted by troublesome at 9:51 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are approximately a half-million native English speakers on the planet right now....

You meant to type half-billion, right?
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:27 PM on September 21, 2011


I'm from California, have never heard it before, and think it sounds incredibly cute and old-fashioned-y, like Austen's "she was all confusion."
posted by small_ruminant at 10:28 PM on September 21, 2011


Nthing Pennsylvania. It was a bit of a shock for me when I moved out here. A lot of the paperwork relating to my lease and the maintenance of my apartment uses this construction, ie asking if certain things "need fixed." I've also had to tell some students that this is not "proper" English -- not (just) out of prescriptivism, but also with an eye towards their future cover letters and such when they hit the job market.
posted by dhens at 12:00 AM on September 22, 2011


This is also reasonably common in Portland, OR. I'm not sure how it got here.

I grew up in the Northeast (not particularly near PA) and never heard this construction until I moved to Oregon. I've always found it sort of charming. Sometimes I find myself using it now, which makes my also-transplanted-from-the-Northeast SO completely frothy with rage.
posted by treblemaker at 12:28 AM on September 22, 2011


You meant to type half-billion, right?

Doh!

Thanks. In my defense, they both start with bilabials and are only separated by a single letter on the keyboard.
posted by Kevtaro at 1:09 AM on September 22, 2011


IANALinguist, so I'm really curious about some things that have come up here. We have a bunch of people (myself included) saying "This sounds terrible and makes my skin crawl." Others are countering with "It's part of the dialect, and dialects are by definition correct." What then makes a dialect? Can I just starts speak weird really and say that I am "correct" because that's my dialect? I'm not trying to be snarky; I just want to know when something goes from being ungrammatical to "perfectly acceptable proper english dialect." How is this determined by linguists?
posted by RobotNinja at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2011


dhartung's link above to Grammar Girl is interesting page on this topic:
Pittsburgh is the epicenter of "needs washed" kind of sentences, but they’re also very common throughout Pennsylvania, and roughly as far west as Iowa, as far North as southern Michigan, and as far south as northern West Virginia.
She attributes to Scots-Irish immigrants who settled area, claiming "needs washed" construction is common in Scotland and Northern Ireland. But question remains why Scots-Irish so long ago said horses “need washed”.

Good bibliography links to college prof who studies this and terms it "infinitival copula deletion". (Delicious!)
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:32 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


...after some more thinking this afternoon...

I guess I'm apparently a "prescriptivist" in this case, although in other cases (such as comma usage) I'm perfectly fine letting the speaker decide the rules. I don't see how it can be correct in this case though. Obviously LanguageHat knows much, much more than me, but it seems completely different than "on line" vs "in line". "On" and "in" are both the same part of speech, while "washed" and "washing"/"to be washed" are not. The former is a past participle. The latter both act as nouns ... right? If I substitute "washing" here, I don't mean the present participle, I mean the gerund.

If you use the word "needs", I'm expecting a noun afterwards. To me, that's why this is definitely ungrammatical, and not just an acceptable variation in dialect. However, I might have said something completely wrong above and embarrassed myself, so someone call me out on it if so!
posted by RobotNinja at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2011


IANALinguist, so I'm really curious about some things that have come up here. We have a bunch of people (myself included) saying "This sounds terrible and makes my skin crawl." Others are countering with "It's part of the dialect, and dialects are by definition correct." What then makes a dialect? Can I just starts speak weird really and say that I am "correct" because that's my dialect? I'm not trying to be snarky; I just want to know when something goes from being ungrammatical to "perfectly acceptable proper english dialect." How is this determined by linguists?

I'm not sensing any snark at all. Let me take a shot at explaining it:

A dialect, to quote the Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, is "any distinct variety of a language, especially one spoken in a specific part of a country or other geographical region."

Basically, you can't just start making up new grammatical constructions or vocabulary and call it a dialect. Other speakers in your region would have to also understand those differences and use them in speech. In a real dialect, features such as the one under discussion here are actually embedded into the language. The "needs changed" construction as much part of the syntax of that dialect as the need for a sentence subject. It isn't in the syntax of other speakers' dialects (yours or mine, for example), however, so to us it sounds incorrect or somehow strange. (It may very well be incorrect in the prescriptivist sense, but that doesn't mean that it is incorrect (or worse, inferior) in the absolute sense. It's merely different.)

Linguists determine and label features of a dialect by first noticing a peculiar feature that is non-standard and/or different from usage in other areas. They will then survey the region by asking different native speakers if they use the feature and then create a map showing the boundaries of where the speakers do or do not use/understand the feature. This data is also usually grouped by user age, gender, and socioeconomic status, as these factors also play a huge role in language use.

There is likely a "needs changed" dialect map out there somewhere. I've boxed most of my linguistics books from when I was in college, but I'll do some searching and see if I can't come up with something.
posted by Kevtaro at 8:01 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


For the very little it's worth, I've always believed that if one person says something and another person understands it then it's perfectly cromulent.

Also, I've heard this usage thousands of times in Scotland (not Britain as I wrote earlier).
posted by fraac at 8:02 PM on September 22, 2011


A small addendum to my previous post:

To give you an idea of what a dialect map looks like, here is a detailed one of North America.
posted by Kevtaro at 8:06 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting question and responses, thanks. I've heard this construction lots of times from Scottish friends (and find it quite catching).
posted by paduasoy at 1:25 AM on September 24, 2011


One of my Grandparents grew up in the Ozarks, on my adopted dad's side, so that is probably where it comes from. As I am taking my wonderful husband on a trip to meet my family in Oklahoma this week, he may be able to identify more clearly which parental unit I was most influenced by. The poor man will be stuck in the car with my mother for over 40 hours of driving and will meet both my biological father and my adopted father in addition to my step mother, he may require prayer.

When I was a teen and teased for my dialect and accent I was able to correct it. If this particular quirk did not get weeded out, I doubt I am capable of altering as an adult. To be honest, it has simply never been pointed out to me before, not even in college writing courses! Please note that even in his teasing, the Deej is a wonderful man, we tease each other quite often, and I give every bit as good as I get!

I assure you that I am not bi-lingual, special needs, or uneducated, just a little different than most of you! Less hostility towards differences may be appreciated? As i have contemplated sending in a few childrens stories for publishing, I will be more aware of my sentence structure to insure that future generations do not sound uneducated or make the skin crawl off of your hides!
posted by Jayed at 10:04 AM on September 24, 2011


Oh, and thank so much for your comments, it has been very enlightening!
posted by Jayed at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2011


(Thanks) Oops!
posted by Jayed at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2011


that doesn't mean that it is incorrect (or worse, inferior) in the absolute sense. It's merely different.

But to pick up on miorita's excellent comment, actual conversations rarely take place in the domain of the linguistic absolute. There's always a little bit of judgement carried on that bandwidth.

People code-switch all the time -- the US is very fertile territory for it, given its diverse linguistic base and its mobile population -- and code-switching often involves adopting or avoiding dialectal forms, depending upon circumstances. Conversations with your mechanic are different from conversations with your lawyer, conversations with your family are often different from ones with your in-laws. Personally, I appreciate the richness of dialect, because it tells so many stories about language, and with such powerful forces working on behalf of standard forms through national and global media, it'd be a shame to feel as if the same homogeneity needs to exist in conversations with one's spouse.
posted by holgate at 10:51 AM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


it'd be a shame to feel as if the same homogeneity needs to exist in conversations with one's spouse.

Indeed it would. But in this case it doesn't.
posted by The Deej at 3:17 PM on September 24, 2011


(One thing that English lacks, at least in standard form: a distinct subjunctive mood.)
posted by holgate at 10:24 PM on September 24, 2011


So my mother is from Northeastern Oklahoma, and my father is from Western Pennsylvannia, so I guess this explains why I never thought the 'needs cleaned' construction was weird! Thanks MeFi! On I side note, since I've been working a lot in rural parts of Ohio recently I've noticed more and more how the Ozarks infected speech of the family I grew up with around Jay, OK and Bentonville, AR really resembles the Appalachian dialect of people from southeast OH and West Virginia. Being a non-linguist I kinda assumed many of the rural American accents were interchangeable but I've been amazed how hard it is for me to imitate the speech of people I work with who are from Nowhereville Michigan or Indiana, but how I helplessly start mirroring people's Appalachian accents whenever I'm in a room with them.

I know this is probably a super weak comment by AskMeFi standards, but I just wanted to share. My advice to Jayed, refer to all carbonated soft drinks as 'coke' and cook him up some chicken fried steak to remind him it could be worse.
posted by midmarch snowman at 5:48 PM on October 12, 2011


"This is a dialect form that is perfectly grammatical within the dialect but quite naturally sounds odd to people who haven't encountered it. "That sounds funny to me" is a fact about you and not about the usage in question."

Well, if you'd read my full comment you'd know that "that sounds funny to me" is not a fact about me, though perhaps I should have mentioned that my travels in Northern Ireland are extensive and that I am married to one of the locals. I hear this usage every day.

But as even the descriptivists here have acknowledged there is a standard form, and this deviates from it. Anything in use is correct by your standards -- rendering any question of right and wrong moot. But by any queryable authority on grammar "the dishes need washed" is simply incorrect. In a community of the wrong, of course the wrong sounds normal. I don't even advocate change, unless the original poster happens to be a stickler for formal english usage, but she is wrong all the same.
posted by nthdegx at 1:46 AM on November 18, 2011


But by any queryable authority on grammar "the dishes need washed" is simply incorrect.

Then surely you can cite "any queryable authority," no?

The dishes need [to be] washed is, if anything, more syntactically sensible than The dishes need [to have someone] washing [them until they have been satisfactorily washed]. It's only the relative ubiquity of the latter that makes it seem more "right."
posted by Sys Rq at 8:03 AM on November 18, 2011


Then surely you can cite "any queryable authority," no?

Well for a start the sentence mixes tenses: the present participle of the verb need, and the past participle of the verb wash. It's probably the nonsensicality of this that makes it so jarring on the ears of those poor ignorami that aren't familiar with this usage. I'd argue the burden of proof lies with those that say that such a confusion is allowable, as it isn't really fair to expect a book on English guidance to list every conceivable incorrect construction.

Henderson's 'The English Way' is my daily-use reference and no, this usage does not appear as an acceptable construction that I can see. But why would it? Does this sentence make any sense? -

do your sheep tolerate buggered?

It's an absolute equivalent. It's "relative ubiquity" that makes standard use standard use, but standard use is often, though not always, sensible.
posted by nthdegx at 4:16 PM on November 19, 2011


And "is washed" mixes the present of "to be" with the past of "to wash." So what? Don't you see that you're simply grasping for some "logical" reason to dismiss a usage you don't like? Much of standard English—or any language—is "illogical," which is why people keep trying to come up with "logical languages" to aid communication (which they've been doing since at least the seventeenth century). But they don't get accepted, or aid communication, because people are not logical and do not demand logical consistency from their language. Believe me, I know how hard it is to separate "I don't like this" from "this is bad"; I still find myself succumbing to the conflation. But it's important for the same reason separating "the sun looks like it's going around the earth" from "the earth actually goes around the sun" is important. Because reality is important.
posted by languagehat at 4:26 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"And "is washed" mixes the present of "to be" with the past of "to wash.""

And is also incorrect. The is should be has been. If I'm grasping at anything then it is at the rules of grammar. All the European languages with which I have any familiarity are founded on logical rules of grammar -- English less so than others, but English is all the same. And those illogical quirks that exist still fall within the rules.

"Believe me, I know how hard it is to separate "I don't like this" from "this is bad"...

This is remarkable given that, in your first response, you totally conflate your opinion with fact. I understand your arguments and I accept the validity of your view. As a relative prescriptivist I can't hold to them. I'm not sure you'll find a prescriptivist, published or otherwise, who can. I don't dislike the usage. I actually rather like it. I have defend Jayed's right to go on using it. Twice now.

Did you read the grammar girl article linked above? What do you make of the recommendation that residents of Pittsburgh, if writing a formal business letter to someone on, say, the west coast, should make sure their infinitives firmly retain the 'to be'. Presumably you would disagree?
posted by nthdegx at 11:35 PM on November 19, 2011


> "And "is washed" mixes the present of "to be" with the past of "to wash.""

And is also incorrect. The is should be has been.


So you don't accept sentences like "At this point, the chicken is washed in cold water." Apparently you are talking about the rules of some language other than the English most of us know. And the idea that European languages, or any languages, are founded on "logical rules of grammar" is absurd unless you define "logic" as "the basis of the grammar I choose to favor with my approval."

> What do you make of the recommendation that residents of Pittsburgh, if writing a formal business letter to someone on, say, the west coast, should make sure their infinitives firmly retain the 'to be'. Presumably you would disagree?

No, of course I don't disagree. The question of how to write formal business letters is entirely separate from the question of grammatical correctness/usage. I would recommend that people wear formal clothes, like a suit, to an interview as well; that does not mean I regard T-shirts as incorrect.
posted by languagehat at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


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