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Is this a correct verb tense?

(26 Posts)
stripygiraffe Tue 20-Sep-11 22:57:19

My Mil (privileged English background) says things such as: "That bread needs eating today" and "The baby wants feeding".
DH has started using it now and it drives me mad. He swears it's correct usage. Is it?
Surely it's, "That bread needs to be eaten today"?

NormanTheForeman Tue 20-Sep-11 23:01:22

I think that "needs eating" and "needs to be eaten" are more or less interchangeable. My dh would say "that bread needs eaten" though. Or the floor "needs swept". He is Scottish, so I suppose it's dialect thing, but it sounds all wrong to me.........

ForYourDreamsAreChina Thu 22-Sep-11 08:33:07

It's not a tense, it's a verb form.

Both are correct, although for some reason (probably dialectical) to be eaten sounds more correct to me.

I've heard the "needs eaten" version as well, my Irish friends use it.

TequillaMockingBird Thu 22-Sep-11 08:53:07

Perhaps the 'to be' forum is marginally more appropriate, since the completion of the bread's consumption is more important than the act of eating? Seems like a question of stress on the outcome vs. the process.

TequillaMockingBird Thu 22-Sep-11 08:54:28

form dang autocorrect.

AMumInScotland Thu 22-Sep-11 09:22:37

As a Scot, I would say "the bread needs eaten", "the floor needs swept", "that shirt needs ironed" etc, and never include the "to be" part of the construction.

I viewed this as perfectly normal until my BIL (from Winchester) told me I was "wrong".

Which proceeded into an interesting argument discussion into why I do not believe that the Southeast of England should get to decide what is "right" or "wrong" in English, and why my dialect was just as valid as his.

Basically, I don't think you can tell people that their way of speaking is any less acceptable than "standard English", its a regional variation.

VictorianIce Thu 22-Sep-11 18:53:05

I think strictly speaking it ought to be 'needs to be eaten', since 'needs' is an auxillary verb and should be followed by the infinitive. Those examples are in the passive voice, so you need the 'to be' bit ("I need to eat the bread" vs "The bread needs to be eaten") followed by the final bit of the verb construction (eaten) in the past tense.

I don't think it's worth bothering about in informal spoken Engligh though. I quite like the Scottish/Irish 'needs eaten' construction smile

lettinggo Thu 22-Sep-11 22:53:47

I'm Irish and have never heard anyone use "needs eaten". We say "needs to be eaten". It's something I notice because my English friend says "needs eaten" which sparked a conversation between us about this very thing.

stickylittlefingers Thu 22-Sep-11 22:56:26

it's "needs eaten" in Newcastle too.

stripygiraffe Fri 23-Sep-11 13:02:09

I understand what you are saying re "needs eaten" in that it is simply an omission of "to be". But my MIL says "needs eatING" - that's the gerund surely? I just can't see that it can be right.

Also get about regional variations (I'm Scottish) but as a true pedant I just like it to be right rather than a recognised variant. grin

VictorianIce Fri 23-Sep-11 20:20:03

'needs' is a verb, so would normally be followed by a noun (or noun phrase) (needs garlic, needs new shoes, needs a lovely long holiday somewhere hot and sunny)
So 'eating' must be a gerund, as you say, which might make sense...
... except we're talking about inanimate objects here - so it has to be passive - so it surely has to have the full passive construction to be 'correct'.
Any advances? smile

AnnoyingOrange Fri 23-Sep-11 20:31:51

The floor needs cleaning

That coat needs washing

Yout teeth need brushing

stripygiraffe Fri 23-Sep-11 20:59:17

I remember when learning French that besoin de (needs) must always be followed by the infinitive. Is it the same in English I wonder?

VictorianIce Fri 23-Sep-11 21:06:15

It is - auxiliary verbs like 'need', 'want' 'wish', 'ought' are always followed by the infinitive. Some constructions miss the 'to' off the main verb, ("I should go home now" vs "I have to go home now") but grammatically speaking it's still the infinitive.

ForYourDreamsAreChina Sat 24-Sep-11 06:21:53

Sorry, VI, that's not totally correct.

Verb patterns can be verb+ ing, verb + infinitive with to, verb + infinitive without to, verb + object +infinitive with to, etc etc. To throw an even bigger spanner in the works, you sometimes find 2 forms with different meanings: think of the difference between "I remember to lock the door before going out" and "I remember locking the door before going out".Subtle, but important!

If you google "verb patterns" you get the full list. It's one of my students' worst nightmares, trying to learn the rules when really it's just a matter of having to learn the pattern for each one as you come across it.

As I said before, both need+ gerund and need + infinitive are correct (as is need+ object + infinitive with to)

Need + gerund seems odd to us, because it's an active verb form with an inherently passive meaning. A true passive is subject+ to be + past participle of main verb. (the bread is eaten by the birds)

Wish is usually followed by a past tense/conditional verb phrase. "I wish I could fly" but usually with a present or future meaning. We use the past tense/conditional form to show its distance from reality, because English rarely makes use of its subjunctive anymore, unlike French, Spanish, Italian etc.

Northey Sat 24-Sep-11 06:42:30

I'm not sure that is totally correct either, FYDAMOC. Isn't "could" the present conditional? If you were to rephrase it with "to be able to", you would say "I wish I were able to fly", not "I wish I had been able to fly".

gastrognome Sat 24-Sep-11 06:47:57

I wonder if it's a throwback to earlier forms of English where passive constructions like "the house was being painted" were not always used. Instead, people would say "the house was painting". It therefore follows that someone would say "the house needs painting".
(I wish I could find a reference online to support this idea - I know I read it somewhere but can't remember where!)

ForYourDreamsAreChina Sat 24-Sep-11 06:48:06

Depends what your timeline is.

I wish I were able to fly=present wish
I wish I had been able to fly=past wish or regret.

Both are correct.

Could is indeed both past tense of can and a conditional form.

ForYourDreamsAreChina Sat 24-Sep-11 06:50:29

x-posted with gastrognome.

That's an interesting idea.....most language use today has been formed through centuries of fiddling around...which is why it's always funny when people mock US English, as apparently US usage is more similar to the original English in use at the time the Pilgrim Fathers went over, and so, if we want to be pedantic through and through,should be using their forms as they've changed less than ours!

Northey Sat 24-Sep-11 06:51:32

Exactly, FYDAMOC. So if were are in the present, then we are using "could" as the present conditional. The same combination of letters also make up a past tense of "can", but that doesn't mean we've used the past tense of can in forming our present wish.

MindtheGappp Sat 24-Sep-11 06:53:45

In the OP's example, the 'eating' is not a verb - it's a noun, specific type called s gerund.

It is grammatically correct.

Northey Sat 24-Sep-11 07:15:59

Except that it is an active form of a gerund, mindthegapp, and the required meaning of the sentence is that it should be passive.

baskingseals Sat 24-Sep-11 07:24:39

agree that the gerund is used instead of the infinitive to indicate an action, this is true whatever tense is used.

MindtheGappp Sat 24-Sep-11 07:49:57

A noun can't have a voice.

Northey Sat 24-Sep-11 08:07:54

Nor tense, for that matter, but gerunds are verbal nouns and so can be manipulated to have both voice and tense.

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