Languagefilter: “x will need replaced”
January 27, 2024 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed myself noticing this construction more and more. Instead of saying “F is in good condition but X will need replacing” or “X will need to be replaced”, the sentence is “X will need replaced.” And not just ‘replace’: replace ‘replace’ with all sorts of other to-be- verbs: retired, repaired, serviced, inspected, laundered.. Can you point me to any literature tracking / exploring this form of sentence?

It seems a relatively new piece of grammar, at least to my reading / experience. I’ve noticed it occasionally over maybe the last decade. I thought at first it was a regional thing (I was living in Northern Ireland, that’s where I first encountered it) but now I see it more frequently in lots of different places. My interest is purely casual, but since I’m academic adjacent I guess I’m interested in academic reflections rather than Reddit boards, but don’t know the relevant grammar / linguistics journals or sites to find discussion. Apologies if this is some overcooked piece of language that online linguists are sick of talking about, I might be very late to the party but equally bad at finding it.
posted by Joeruckus to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Wet Spot at 3:15 AM on January 27 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I thought at first it was a regional thing (I was living in Northern Ireland, that’s where I first encountered it)

Just to note that this is also very common longstanding usage in Scottish English.
- noun needs verbed
- noun is needing verbed
You can also say "[inanimate object] wants verbed", or "wants verbing".

Take a look at "Needs Washed", an excellent Yale Grammatical Diversity article on the subject, with a nice map of varying acceptability across the US.
Murray and Simon (2002) describe the rough boundaries as Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, and Central Indiana. Pockets of speakers may exist in places as far-spread as Kentucky and Illinois. This construction is also attested in Scots English, which might be its historical source.

According to Murray and Simon (1999), the need/want + V-en construction displays sensitivity to no significant sociolinguistic factors other than race, and they say that "white [people] favor the construction significantly more than black" people (pp. 149). Murray and Simon (2002) found that unlike white speakers, virtually no black speakers accept like + V-en.

posted by Klipspringer at 3:17 AM on January 27 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Not academic references but for general interest, and with a few academic links in some answers - here are some previous appearances on AskMe, dating back to at least 2008.
posted by trig at 3:46 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for these replies, I guess I needed done a better job of searching previouslies. The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project is dope! Delighted to know about that now.
posted by Joeruckus at 3:57 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]

As a native speaker of this usage (since 1980) with a long hobby of linguistics, I'll point out that its usage and received correctness seem to be based on the semantics of the second verb. Sure, the car needs washed, the dishwasher needs fixed, the computer needs repaired. The house may need painted, but we don't say things like "the garage needs demolished", "your project needs planned", or "this trail needs hiked".

It seems to be centered around the notion of upkeep, repair, or maintenance, and not used for verbs far from that cluster of meaning. All the accepted examples in the Yale project fit this form, allowing that "the baby wants fed" is a type of maintenance. I don't think I've ever seen this semantic angle mentioned in places like the Yale project, so thought I'd mention it here for posterity :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:27 AM on January 27 [40 favorites]

Fascinating detail, SaltySalticid. Do bills need paid? Can a friend need consoled?
posted by eirias at 5:56 AM on January 27

Yes on both counts, at least here in Pittsburgh!
posted by Stacey at 6:21 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]

Interestingly, I wouldn’t blink at hearing that the garage needs demolished or the project needs planned, but I do agree that “the trail needs hiked” is deeply incorrect.
posted by Stacey at 6:23 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]

I don’t use this construction at all and it struck me as jarringly off when I started noticing it, maybe 10 years ago; but Google does yield examples of things like “demolished” and “planned” as well as “cooked,” “fried,” “eaten,” “chewed,” and others that don’t seem particularly maintenance-adjacent.
posted by staggernation at 6:34 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's fuzzy. Sure, bills need paid, and I'm speaking from my experience, not careful surveys etc. Maybe I sliced it too narrowly.

I suppose my main point is that there are many verbs you won't hear it with, and there is some agreement on which ones are out. It's no coincidence that 'wash' and 'fix' are the most common examples.

I think it has something to do with only some verbs seem to make sense to us with this nebulous, non-volitional sense of needing or wanting. The speaker is issuing their own opinion on a requirement, so verbs that don't line up with that notion don't end up in that construction.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:00 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

I first heard it when I moved to Ohio in 2014. Never heard it in TX or on the east Coast.
posted by 8603 at 7:37 AM on January 27

Yup, came in to say that it’s very much Scots to me (from south of England but been living in Scotland many years).

Wrt Saltysalticid’s examples, "the garage needs demolished" and "your project needs planned" would totally be normal usage in Scotland.

"this trail needs hiked" would be odd, but then so would “this trail needs to be hiked” or “this trail needs hiking,” - to me they’re all odd not because of the grammar but because trails don’t generally need hiking.
posted by penguin pie at 7:45 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]

This also exists in central Indiana and my husband's family insists never ever ever in upstate New York.
posted by cooker girl at 8:23 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]

With my native Scottish English speaker hat on, I think the form takes a wide range of verbs. In fact, off the top of my head, I am struggling to think of a semantic group of verbs which is invalid in this form, but valid in the standard "needs to be verbed" form.

"The garage needs demolished" is absolutely fine.

"The project needs planned" initially sounded odd, but I think that is only because it is something one does in an office, where you speak a more standard, English variety of English.

"The trail needs hiked" is very weird. But if I Scotticise it to "that Munro needs bagged this weekend" or "Ben Nevis needs conquered" it becomes cromulent.

It's common to find this form used with "want" instead of "need". But, often, "want" means "need", and can be entirely non-volitional. "Jimmy wants smacked for last night's behaviour" is about what he deserves and has nothing (either sincere or ironic) to do with what he desires.

If you have university library access, then a proper academic treatment of what the author calls the alternative embedded passive (AEP) is to be found in Edelstein, Elspeth, 'This Syntax Needs Studied', in Raffaella Zanuttini, and Laurence Horn (eds), Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English, Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax (New York, 2014; online edn, Oxford Academic, 21 Aug. 2014).
posted by Klipspringer at 8:33 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]

The question is now thoroughly answered, but I wanted to throw in (partially for posterity) that you may see this referred to as

Infinitival Copula Deletion

In that the Infinitive form (to + verb) of the copula (connecting structure between the subject and subject complement) is deleted. It is a subset of Zero copula.

[And it's as unique to Pittsburgh as the concept of bridges over rivers]
posted by miguelcervantes at 9:36 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

I hear this construction from people in northern Rhode Island (the "cradle of the industrial revolution" Blackstone River valley), of French-Canadian extraction.

And it drives me nuts.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:04 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the nuts need driven.
posted by aws17576 at 11:14 AM on January 27 [21 favorites]

I've heard it all my life and thought just about everyone spoke that way. That restroom's a mess; the toilets need flushed and the floor needs mopped. My pants need hemmed. My hair sure needs cut. Seems like it's usually an object that needs something done to it. (Do people really say "needs to have something done to it?")

However, a kid needs a good spanking (as everybody around here still agrees, it seems). A kid needs spanked, but a kid doesn't need a good spanked. They just need spanked real good.
posted by serena15221 at 9:10 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]

The people who don't have this construction (like me) just say "the house needs painting", etc.

I know a few people who say it, and they're all from Ohio and Pennsylvania. But they're my age, thus ooold. Those of you who say it, where were you brought up?
posted by zompist at 10:39 PM on January 27

As a data point, I grew up in a place that doesn’t typically have this construction (central NJ, in the outer orbit of NYC), but picked it up in adulthood after spending a lot of time with a friend from rural western PA. Now it’s a regular part of my speech and just contributes to the thing where no one can quite place my accent. It’s not standard to Philadelphia, where I currently live, but no one’s ever corrected me for it or anything.
posted by ActionPopulated at 3:37 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]

I’m in my forties, grew up mostly in New Jersey, but moved to Pittsburgh almost 30 years ago now and picked up the construction at some point during my time here. Sometimes I say “the cats need fed”, sometimes “the cats need to be fed,” much more rarely “the cats need feeding.”

Around here I would say it’s something you hear more from people a generation older than me, fairly regularly from people my age, and much more rarely from a generation younger. But it’s also certainly true that I just don’t know as many younger people locally so if you tell me they’re all on TikTok spreading the gospel of “needs washed” across the internet I will believe you and be charmed.
posted by Stacey at 5:31 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]

(Do people really say "needs to have something done to it?")

Yes! The dog needs a bath, the walls need to be painted, the car needs to be fixed. I grew up in central Indiana around the "x needs y" construction but I don't use it. My mom, from rural Mississippi, used it, but my dad, from Chicagoland, did not.
posted by cooker girl at 7:30 AM on January 28

Late 40s, born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio. I use this construction all the time.
posted by kathrynm at 10:29 AM on January 28

I first heard it when I arrived in Bloomington, Indiana in 1993. I thought it sounded very strange, but it seemed common enough around there. Everywhere else I've lived, before and since then, people say either "it needs to be Xed" or "it needs Xing" instead.
posted by tangerine at 5:45 PM on January 29

The first time I heard this was in central PA. (One of many bizarre culture shocks for someone coming from the South. The food. I just...why, Lord, why?!) They also referred to dogs being spayed as being "dressed". In New Orleans, that means a poboy with all the toppings. The first time someone came into the clinic and said their dog needs dressed I just stood mouth agape at both the content and grammatical construction of the sentence. Youwhatnow?
posted by SinAesthetic at 6:12 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

It feels very Indiana to me, who grew up all over northern flyover country (small-town and mid-Michigan, small town Montana). My wife's family uses the construct consistently, they're extreme southwest MI/northern Indiana. After being together for over 35 years now I find myself doing the same thing, deliberately, because I'm amused at the way the phrases are constructed and playing with language is fun.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:56 AM on January 30

Australian here who grew up with English-bred speakers of English. This usage was completely unknown to me until seeing it online in the 2000s, and I have never heard it in person except from my boss who grew up in Pennsylvania.

And thank you for asking the question, Joeruckus, as I have often wondered about this myself.
posted by andraste at 6:11 PM on February 1

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