didn't need to vs. needn't have done

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Garbuz

Senior Member
Russian
I know the basic difference between them, but in some context they sound interchangeable.

You didn't need to do everything yourself. I could have helped you.
You needn't have done everything yourself. I could have helped you.

Am I right?
 
  • Matomic

    Member
    American English
    Without the contractions the sentences would be:

    You did not need to do everything yourself.
    You need not have done everything yourself.

    "did not need" suggests completed actions
    "need not" suggests future actions

    Since the speaker is saying that they could have helped you in the past, the first sentence is more correct.
     

    Garbuz

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Without the contractions the sentences would be:

    You did not need to do everything yourself.
    You need not have done everything yourself.

    "did not need" suggests completed actions
    "need not" suggests future actions

    Since the speaker is saying that they could have helped you in the past, the first sentence is more correct.
    So the first sentence in my example sounds more natural to you, doesn't it?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    (1) You did not need to do everything yourself.
    (2) You need not have done everything yourself.

    Those sentences refer to the past. If we convert them to the present tense, we have:

    (3) You do not need to do everything yourself.
    (4) You need not do everything yourself.

    These mean the same thing. (3) is equivalent to (4).

    In the same way, (1) is equivalent to (2): they say the same thing.
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    I agree with wandle. The two sentences given in post 1 are essentially identically.

    The second sentence version sounds slightly more highbrow, but they are both correct and both refer to things that were done in the past.
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I see some difference:

    I knew I had some milk at home, so I didn't need to buy any.
    I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I needn't have bought any.

    In the first case, the action didn't happen because it wasn't necessary. In the second case it happened even though it wasn't necessary.
    But there's some flexibility in "didn't need to", which can also be used for an action that has happened. This is true for the example given by Garbuz.
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    I see some difference:

    I knew I had some milk at home, so I didn't need to buy any.
    I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I needn't have bought any.

    In the first case, the action didn't happen because it wasn't necessary. In the second case it happened even though it wasn't necessary.
    But there's some flexibility in "didn't need to", which can also be used for an action that has happened. This is true for the example given by Garbuz.
    I agree fully with this analysis. My comment on the essentially identical nature of the forms was limited to the context given in the initial post.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I still maintain that the alternative formulations ('didn't need to' and 'needn't have') are stictly equivalent to each other.
    It is true Einstein's examples in post 7 are not equivalent, but that is because they are not parallel cases.

    (a) 'I knew I had some milk at home, so I didn't need to buy any.'
    (b) 'I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I needn't have bought any.'

    The fact is that these sentences are not comparing like with like.
    Of course, there is an intended factual difference between the two situations (not buying v. buying).
    However, apart from that, there is also a tense difference in the verbs, which prevents them being parallel cases for the purpose of the present comparison.

    In (a), the two clauses refer to the same time: thus they are both in the simple past tense.

    In (b), there are two relevant times: the time of purchase and the time of reaching home.
    The words 'needn't have bought any' express a thought formed at the later time (reaching home), but they refer to a need (or rather, lack of need) at the earlier time (buying the milk).
    This earlier stage in time, when commented on later, involves as usual the past perfect.

    Thus if we convert (b) into its true alternative form we have:
    (b1) 'I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I hadn't needed to buy any.'
    This once again is fully equivalent to its corresponding version (b).

    However when we try to convert (a) into its alternative form, we come up against a gap in the language:
    (a1) 'I knew I had some milk at home, so I needed not (to) buy any.'
    The word 'needed', the simple past tense of 'need', does exist but it is not used nowadays in the negative.
    Nevertheless, by formulating it, we can see the true parallel case for sentence (a) and the real difference from sentence (b).
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I agree with Einstein. There is a difference between:
    I didn't need to buy milk.
    I needn't have bought milk.

    The second implies that milk was actually bought. The first does not.

    In the OP's examples, the second statement ("I could have helped you") does the job of implying that the action was actually performed (i.e. that you did do everything yourself), and it is this fact that accounts for the equivalence in meaning.

    Contrast:
    I didn't need to do everything myself. My servant did half the work. :thumbsup:
    I needn't have done everything myself. My servant did half the work.
    :thumbsdown:
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    There is a difference between:
    I didn't need to buy milk.
    I needn't have bought milk.

    The second implies that milk was actually bought. The first does not.
    As pointed out earlier, there are two differences between these sentences: the factual difference and the tense difference.

    Thus they are not parallel cases for present purposes.

    The parallel case to 'I didn't need to do everything myself' is 'I needed not (to) do everything myself'.
    (As already explained, this is not good English, just because the past simple of 'need' is not now used in the negative. This is an accidental gap in the language.)

    The parallel case to 'I needn't have done everything myself' is 'I had not needed to do everything myself'.

    Once we identify the true parallel case for each sentence, we see that the two alternative formulations do mean the same.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    There is a quirk about the perfect infinitive which Fowler 1908 explains in this example:
    I hoped to have succeeded = I hoped to succeed, but I did not succeed.

    In this case we have:
    You needn't have done everything yourself = You didn't need to do everything yourself, but you did do everything yourself.

    It is the "but" clause that, in my opinion, invalidates your reduction of 'I needn't have done everything myself' to 'I had not needed to do everything myself'. The crucial difference is that it also implies I did do everything myself.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Why do you think the implied 'but'-clause is present in 'I needn't have done everything myself' but absent in 'I had not needed to do everything myself'?

    It seems to me the two formulations are fully equivalent: including the 'but'-implication.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Let's simplify the sentence. Are you saying that "I hadn't needed to eat" implies "I did eat"?

    Could you say:
    I hadn't needed to do everything myself: my servant had helped me.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I maintain the two formulations 'I need not have done everything myself' and 'I had not needed to do everything myself' are equivalent.
    What is implied by the one is implied by the other. Such implication will vary with context, but not with the choice of formulation.

    Applying this to the example of a false construction in your earlier post we have:

    'I needn't have done everything myself. My servant did half the work' is equivalent to 'I hadn't needed to do everything myself. My servant did half the work.'

    Being equivalent, the two formulations are equally inapplicable in such a context.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There seems to me clearly to be a difference between not needing to do something and needing not to do something. The first suggests an absence of obligation to do it, and the second an obligation to avoid doing it.

    If you go to the zoo, it would be odd to say that there was no need to go into the snake pit, but normal to say that one should avoid doing so.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Why do you think the implied 'but'-clause is present in 'I needn't have done everything myself' but absent in 'I had not needed to do everything myself'?

    It seems to me the two formulations are fully equivalent: including the 'but'-implication.
    Wandle, you are making two assertions here:
    (1) I had not needed to do everything myself implies I did do everything myself.
    (2) I needn't have done everything myself implies I did do everything myself.

    I don't understand how you can maintain (1), but I am happy that we agree on (2).

    Returning now to the OP's original sentence (changing "you" to "I"), we have:
    (3) I didn't need to do everything myself.
    Do you maintain that (3) also implies I did do everything myself ?
    I believe that it does not, and that is why I infer that I needn't have done everything myself has a different meaning to I didn't need to do everything myself. This is the point that Einstein and I are making.
     
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    Leon Liang

    Member
    chinese
    I'm always confuse about 'do not need' , 'need not do' and ' and 'no need to do', I'm not sure I can talk 'no need to do' here, it's beyond the scope of the title, I think there is no need to start a new thread, because 'no need to do' is the same type as 'do not need' and 'need not do' also have similar meanings.

    I've known (1) is equivalent to (2), these mean the same thing.
    But how about (3)? (4) maybe incorrect, I'm not sure...
    As regards (1)(2)(3), I'd like to know which is the best.

    (1) You do not need to do everything yourself.
    (2) You need not do everything yourself.

    (3)There is no need to do everything yourself.
    (4)You are no need to do everything yourself.


    Thanks!
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Sorry to come back in late...

    I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I hadn't needed to buy any.

    I would NEVER say a sentence like this! I see a certain analogy between didn't need to do/needn't have done and didn't have to do/shouldn't have done. In the milk example, I hadn't needed to buy any is quite similar in meaning to I hadn't had to buy any. The implication in both cases is that I didn't buy any.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I'm always confused about 'do not need' , 'need not do' and ' and 'no need to do', I'm not sure I can say 'no need to do' here, it's beyond the scope of the title, I think there is no need to start a new thread, because 'no need to do' is the same type as 'do not need' and 'need not do' also have similar meanings.

    I've known (1) is equivalent to (2), these mean the same thing.
    But how about (3)? (4) maybe incorrect, I'm not sure...
    As regards (1)(2)(3), I'd like to know which is the best.

    (1) You do not need to do everything yourself.
    (2) You need not do everything yourself.
    (3) There is no need to do everything yourself.
    (4) You are no need to do everything yourself.
    Simplifying the subordinate clause to "sing", the rule is:
    You needn't sing = You do not need to sing = You need not sing = There is no need for you to sing.

    You are correct in saying that (1) and (2) have the same meaning.
    (3) also has the same meaning because we can drop "for you" in the presence of the reflexive pronoun "yourself".
    (4) is ungrammatical, and would not make much sense even if "no need" was changed to "in no need".

    I think that you should start a new thread if you want to pursue these equivalences further.
     

    Leon Liang

    Member
    chinese
    (3) also has the same meaning because we can drop "for you" in the presence of the reflexive pronoun "yourself".
    (4) is ungrammatical, and would not make much sense even if "no need" was changed to "in no need".
    That's enough for me, I just want to know the clause('no need to do') whether can begin with personal pronouns(you, we...), or “there is no need to do...” is a idiomatic(fixed) usage.
    According to what you said, I think the clause can not begin with personal pronouns. (4) is a wrong usage, so next time I will not use like that.
    Thanks Pertinax!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Sorry to come back in late...

    I bought some milk, but when I got home I found we already had some, so I hadn't needed to buy any.

    I would NEVER say a sentence like this! I see a certain analogy between didn't need to do/needn't have done and didn't have to do/shouldn't have done. In the milk example, I hadn't needed to buy any is quite similar in meaning to I hadn't had to buy any. The implication in both cases is that I didn't buy any.
    I'm surprised you say this, Einstein. I could easily say that sentence, and, in such a case, of course, I hadn't needed to buy any does not imply that you hadn't bought any.
     
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    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    My take on this:

    I hadn't needed to buy any
    1) The expression is inconclusive as to whether something was bought or not. It simply states that the need had not existed.
    2) This is strictly in the past perfect tense and requires an intervening past reference event/moment to justify its preference over I didn't need to buy any.

    I needn't have bought any
    1) Unlike the above expression, this one strongly implies that I did buy some (of whatever) although that was not necessary.
    2) This is a modal verb with the perfective form of the main verb and can express both a) actions taking place in the past (simple past) and b) ones taking place prior to another past reference point (similar to past perfect):
    a) I bought some chocolates yesterday. I needn't have bought any - there are at least 10 boxes in my fridge.
    b) When you called to tell me not to buy sweets, I had already bought some chocolates although I needn't have, as it later turned out when you called.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Thanks, TT. Perhaps I should have acknowledged my own agreement with you, Pertinax and everyone else who believes those two to be different in both form and meaning. :)
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I'm surprised you say this, Einstein. I could easily say that sentence, and, in such a case, of course, I hadn't needed to buy any does not imply that you hadn't bought any.
    Well, we'll have to agree to disagree and acknowledge that no two people speak the language in exactly the same way! :)
    To tell the truth, in the simple past I can accept that I didn't need to admits the possibility that you did it notwithstanding, especially if we say I didn't really need to do it. But to me hadn't needed seems more definitive in excluding that the action took place and in any case I find it an unnatural substitute for I needn't have done it.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well, we'll have to agree to disagree and acknowledge that no two people speak the language in exactly the same way! :)
    To tell the truth, in the simple past I can accept that I didn't need to admits the possibility that you did it notwithstanding, especially if we say I didn't really need to do it. But to me hadn't needed seems more definitive in excluding that the action took place and in any case I find it an unnatural substitute for I needn't have done it.
    Many thanks for this, Einstein.

    The BNC has several interesting examples of had not needed to, including this one:

    Nora had not needed to see the child in order to understand what had moved John to behave as he did.

    Don't you think it possible that Nora saw the child?
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Many thanks for this, Einstein.

    The BNC has several interesting examples of had not needed to, including this one:

    Nora had not needed to see the child in order to understand what had moved John to behave as he did.

    Don't you think it possible that Nora saw the child?
    Hmm... Yes, it's possible, but I see this as a slightly different case and I find the use of the past perfect more logical than in your other examples. However, I'm having a general think about the use of "need" and hope to present some ideas in a few days, either here or by PM. Here, without thinking too much, I'd say it's possible that Nora had drawn her conclusions about John before seeing the child, so that if she saw him afterwards it was irrelevant to the situation. But as I say, that's without thinking too much!:D
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I wanted to check on another option. Is this option possible?

    You don't need to have done everything yourself.
    I thinks it's wrong, but I need your confirmation.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    А. So, will you participate in our car design competition.
    B. I want to, but designing a car is a massive job, so my designs are not all mine. They are all joint projects.
    A. You don't need to have done everything yourself.
     

    Ivan_I

    Senior Member
    Russian
    А. So, will you participate in our car design competition.
    B. I want to, but designing a car is a massive job, so my designs are not all mine. They are all joint projects.
    A. You don't need to have done everything yourself.
    I think you mean a different thing here. You mean it to mean an action in the present while I implied (implicitly as it turns out) an action in the past.

    You don't need to have done everything yourself LAST YEAR.
     
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