2000-03-13

This Question Needs Answered

the lawn needs mowed / the lawn needs mowing / the lawn needs to be mowed

I'm assuming there is a name for this construction, but I have been unable to find one.

The leftmost version sounds very odd to me, although since noticing its use by others, I've caught myself using it once or twice.

I asked Larry Wall about this on 2000-10-13 after his talk at the Atlanta Linux Showcase, hoping that with his background in linguistics he could give me the name for this grammatical error (or unusual grammatical form). He couldn't think of a name for it.

There was some discussion on the newsgroup alt.english.usage about this, which can be found by searching deja for "needs mowed".

I have The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996 edition, ISBN 0-19-869126-2). The entry for "need" on page 516 reads:

3 need + pa.pple. The type these clippers need mended is a worrying newcomer in semi-educated speech in BrE and AmE. Examples: I walked round the cottage to see what needed done--C. Burns, 1989 (UK); When you see one [sc. a dog] drag its butt on the ground like that, it needs wormed, Otis--T. McGuane, 1989 (US). The standard alternatives are shown in 2.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000 (At the heading "REGIONAL NOTE" here):

When need is used as the main verb, it can be followed by a present participle, as in The car needs washing, or by to be plus a past participle, as in The car needs to be washed. However, in some areas of the United States, especially western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, many speakers omit to be and use just the past participle form, as in The car needs washed. This use of need with past participles is slightly more common in the British Isles, being particularly prevalent in Scotland.

["The lawn needs mowed" appears in my notes for the first time on 1999-08-04]

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