Semi-modal verb – need

The next semi-modal verb on our list is the verb “to need”, which means “to require something”.

Usually it follows the rules for normal verbs, such as in the following example:

I need to go.

A non-modal use of the verb “need”

Did you know that there is a way to use it as a modal verb? There is, which is why it is known as a semi-modal verb.

When used as a non-modal, it uses the infinitive afterwards, such as “to go”, which we saw in the last sentence. When used as a modal verb, it uses the bare infinitive afterwards. This is the only criteria that makes it modal, meaning it is a semi-modal verb. Subsequently, we do not have to use the auxiliary (helping) verb “to do” for questions or the negative. For example:

You need not talk to me.

I need not try.

A modal use of the verb “need”

In this sentence we can see that it is used in the modal form, taking “talk” or “try” after the verb rather than “to do”.

Wait one minute! I have seen the following sentences as well. What is the difference?

You do not need to talk to me.

I don’t need to try.

Non-modal uses of verb “need”

Need not (Needn’t)

When it is a modal, it is close in meaning to the modal “must“. While it expresses a strong necessity or obligation, it is not as strong as “must”. However, in the negative the meaning changes, meaning it does not mean the same thing as “must not”. Instead, it expresses the lack of requiring rather than “must not”, which prohibits something. For example:

You needn’t water the grass.

This means You don’t have to water the grass rather than You mustn’t water the grass.


Want to learn more about modal verbs? You can find a guide to all the semi-modal verbs here: introduction to semi-modal verbs. You can also learn more about other English language information on my Teaching English page.

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