needs replaced v. needs to be replaced
March 15, 2010 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Is the phrase "needs replaced" an English language regionalism? Is it an American English regional phrase? Is it of relatively recent vintage? Why does it seem to be gaining prevalence?

I have always used the phrase "needs to be replaced," but have recently noticed the version that leaves out the "to be." The shortened phrase really confuses me, as it seems incomplete, and like an improper way to use "needs." (I know...I try to be all descriptivist about these things, but a man's not perfect.) I haven't found anything about this by searching the internet, except to note that there are substantially fewer instances of the shortened phrase in Google than of the longer variant.

I've seen this question on cable newspeak, but although this phrase is mentioned in the comments, I'm not sure it's related.
posted by OmieWise to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I first noticed this when I went to college in central Pennsylvania - many of my classmates would omit "to be" in phrases like "This room needs cleaned" or "My hair needs combed." I only ever heard this from central PA natives, and those of us not from the area thought it sounded weird.
posted by LolaGeek at 6:06 AM on March 15, 2010

It definitely does sound weird. I've never heard it myself, which makes me think it must be a regional construction.
posted by fso at 6:08 AM on March 15, 2010

It was very common when I was in the Navy on compartment inspection reports (e.g "X needs painted" or "leaking Y needs fixed". I feel the same way as you do about it. They should say "needs replacement" or "needs to be replaced".
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:09 AM on March 15, 2010

I'm pretty sure it's a regional variant. I have a friend from Ohio who says this all the time, but I don't think I've heard it from east coast natives. I'm from the UK and would never say this.
posted by ob at 6:10 AM on March 15, 2010

I've only ever heard people in PA or from PA say it.
posted by zephyr_words at 6:11 AM on March 15, 2010

I have never heard this before (British).
posted by handee at 6:15 AM on March 15, 2010

It's a mainstay in central Indiana (where I'm from) and southwestern Ohio (where I now live). I've been correcting my children for years for using the construction. I can't stand it.
posted by cooker girl at 6:17 AM on March 15, 2010

Best answer: Previously.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:19 AM on March 15, 2010

Never heard it before (in ME, NH, VT, MA, DC, MD, CA).
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on March 15, 2010

New Englander here, have never heard this usage.
posted by jozxyqk at 6:20 AM on March 15, 2010

Yep, from Central Ohio with (very blue-collar) great-grandparents from southeastern Ohio/western PA who passed it down to us. I still use this construction all the time and get made fun of for it now that I live in New England. Needs done, needs washed, needs replaced, etc.

I will say I've heard Scottish acquaintances/coworkers use it.
posted by olinerd at 6:24 AM on March 15, 2010

People say it all the time in Pittsburgh.
posted by unreasonable at 6:26 AM on March 15, 2010

There was a long AskMetafilter thread about this exact thing - see Metroid Baby's link.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:26 AM on March 15, 2010

I've heard this a number of times in central Iowa.
posted by mikeh at 6:29 AM on March 15, 2010

It's a very common construction in Scots/Scottish English.
posted by Catseye at 6:30 AM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, I missed that previous thread when I search "needs replaced." Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 6:36 AM on March 15, 2010

Here's an academic paper on it in JSTOR (if you have access through a school or workplace.) I'm headed to work but I can come back and summarize it later for people without access.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:36 AM on March 15, 2010

Checking in from Central Pa.: I have always understood this construction as a leftover from the Pennsylvania-German dialect, and just the other day saw an ad which asked, "Got an appliance that needs fixed?" At least where I live, this is common usage among Amish, Mennonites and older residents of (at least partial) German heritage.

See also.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:38 AM on March 15, 2010

I am Scottish and it's normal here.
posted by fire&wings at 6:43 AM on March 15, 2010

St. Louis here. First heard it, or at least noticed it, when I worked in Arkansas. I always figured it to be a hillbilly construction.
posted by notsnot at 6:51 AM on March 15, 2010

Huh... I'm originally from north central Ohio, and I honestly can't tell you which version I would use automatically. "Needs replaced" doesn't sound all that odd to my ear, though, which makes me think I must have heard it quite a bit growing up.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:07 AM on March 15, 2010

I'm English - never heard it; would never say it.
posted by idiomatika at 7:10 AM on March 15, 2010

I'll confirm western PA/Pittsburgh ubiquity - to the extent that (the more "correct") "needs to be" x just seems unwieldy.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:24 AM on March 15, 2010

Like LolaGirl, I first encountered this is college in western PA, whereas as a Michigander, "Needs replacing," or "the floor needs sweeping" is what I'd say.
posted by not that girl at 7:29 AM on March 15, 2010

Yes, grew up in North Central WV here (about 90 miles south of Pittsburgh) and it's definitely a regional thing. It's common enough that I didn't realize it was "wrong" until after college when someone at my workplace who didn't grow up locally pointed it out. I don't think it goes much further west than Ohio, though.
posted by miratime at 7:40 AM on March 15, 2010

Toronto here. I hear it often, but more commonly with the "to be" in there.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:30 AM on March 15, 2010

Central PA -- my family and I lived there until I was about 12. The main cases I know involve omission of the helper verbs "to be" and "to go" with the verbs "want" and "need".

"The dog wants out"
"The floor needs swept"
posted by kestrel251 at 8:30 AM on March 15, 2010

Native Kansan here and just had a friend point out to me recently that I do this. Never noticed it before and it doesn't sound strange at all, just an economy of words.
posted by stubborn at 8:33 AM on March 15, 2010

The saddest use I've ever seen (both grammatically speaking and otherwise), from Picksburgh Craigslist, was "Kitten needs rid of."
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Seems to be a growing phenomonon. One of those chosen linguistic variances to align oneself with a group. It feels rural and no nonsense, and so people use it to appear to be a part of that subculture. But yeah, started in the areas with Scots influences.

Another is the pronunciation of "saw" with a hint of L at the end. Rhymes awl. Haven't seen it yet? You will.
posted by gjc at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2010

I grew up in Wisconsin and have lived in upstate NY for a few years. I have never heard anyone say this outside of these two AskMetafilter threads. If I heard someone say it I would assume they had made a slip of the tongue and accidentally omitted the words "to be."
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2010

So, so, so ubiquitous here in Picksburgh that I now say it. I'm originally from Upstate NY and NEVER would have said this originally; now the construction "[noun] needs to be [verbed]" sounds overly wordy and part of a more formal register than I typically use in my everyday speech.
posted by kataclysm at 8:49 AM on March 15, 2010

I've heard it in present tense (The dog wants out), but never with a past tense verb (The dog wants fed).
posted by blue_beetle at 8:54 AM on March 15, 2010

Central IL -- my water company just sent me a notice that my meter "needs replaced immediately."

I have noticed in central IL that it tends to be used when the need is fairly immediate and/or is currently interfering with one's life. So, "My car needs fixed" would suggest I can't actually come to your party tonight because my car's situation is so bad, whereas "My car needs to be fixed" would suggest it's just a stuck window and I can get around to it eventually.

I've only lived here six years, though, so my dataset is limited. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2010

Iowa... I think it sounds wrong, and would never use it myself, but I do hear some people say it around here.
posted by relucent at 9:28 AM on March 15, 2010

Never heard it, definitely sounds weird to me. (CT, USA here)
posted by reptile at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2010

Needs warshed (washed). southern ohio east to southern west virginia.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:41 AM on March 15, 2010

fire&wings: "I am Scottish and it's normal here."

There's a big Scottish influence on language in Pittsburgh/Western PA from the early settlers after the French and Indian War.
posted by octothorpe at 9:45 AM on March 15, 2010

FWIW, I have an employee from Hawaii who uses this construction. I think she has only ever lived in Hawaii and Oregon, so I have no idea where she got it from if it's a PA thing.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2010

From Western PA, undergrad in Pittsburgh, and I still use this construction, almost 15 years after moving away. I vaguely recall writing a paper on it for a linguistics class, and I'm pretty sure MonkeyToes has it right; it's a left-over from the amalgam of languages and dialects in the area.

Of course, I still say "red up" and "gum band". Sometimes "keller" and "warsh" also slip out.

I never say "Picksburgh" or "Pixburgh", though. /full-body shiver at the thought
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:21 AM on March 15, 2010

From New England, living in southeast VA, and never heard it till I moved here.
posted by cottonswab at 11:17 AM on March 15, 2010

If you're just entering the thread - the sources posted above and in the previous thread confirm that it's a Scotch-Irish construction.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2010

People in Tennessee definitely use it a lot. Based on various working experiences, it's much more common here among working class people than those in academia. There is quite a bit of Scotch-Irish ancestry here.
posted by frobozz at 12:32 PM on March 15, 2010

I heard this all the time growing up in Southern Illinois. Agreed that it's a Scot-Irish construction, with an Appalachian vector.
posted by EarBucket at 1:22 PM on March 15, 2010

(Come to think of it, the only people who used it frequently were country folk with a more pronounced South Midland accent like my grandmother, who'd say "these clothes need warshed;" people who lived in town had a North Midland accent and would say "these clothes need to be washed.")
posted by EarBucket at 1:26 PM on March 15, 2010

My husband uses this construction, as does his entire family and his friends from childhood. The family has lived in eastern Washington state for several generations. I'm from the western side of the state, and had never heard it before. Puzzling!
posted by themissy at 4:06 PM on March 15, 2010

I second the impression that usage seems to be on rise. My impression is that the people I see using it are doing so not because they think it is proper English, but because they find it to be a cute/interesting turn of phrase. (California)
posted by contraption at 5:20 PM on March 15, 2010

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