He need never know

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kevin98230, Feb 24, 2010.

  1. kevin98230 Member

    Hello all,

    I have recently come across the sentence, "If nothing happens, he need never know." from an American TV-series.

    If my ears didn't deceive me, I am wondering how come it is "he need never know", and not "He needs never know"? Whether this grammatical structure is used in other situations, "Subject - Verb - Modal - Verb" or is it just a set expression. Does it mean the same thing as "He never needs to know"? Finally, is it only used in America?

    Many thanks,
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2010
  2. reganse Senior Member

    Houston, Texas
    English – U.S.
    It means the same thing as "He never needs to know," just as you said. It is a literary form and, if I'm not mistaken, it uses the subjunctive tense. This tense is not used much in daily speech.
  3. kevin98230 Member

    So I see, that would explain the use of "need", rather than "needs".
  4. reganse Senior Member

    Houston, Texas
    English – U.S.
    Yes, it's like saying: if I were a carpenter, I would do …
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Kevin

    "Need" can be used in two ways: (1) as an "ordinary" verb, in which case it takes third person singular present tense "s" and is followed by the to-infinitive; and (2) as a modal, in which case it has no "s" in the third person singular present tense, and is followed by the bare infinitive.

    You might find this previous thread interesting: need / need to.

    And no, modal "need" is not only used in America;)
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2010
  6. kevin98230 Member

    Thank you to you all! The link really helps!

    I see. So in this case, it is only functioning as a modal verb, rather than as an ordinary verb taking the subjunctive case.

    "He needn't always ask his sister for help"
    "He need go to the Doctor..." (<---Sounds a bit funny to me? Is it correct?)
  7. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    It's not correct. Auxiliary 'need' has the strange property that it's not used in positive statements:

    He need not go.
    Need he go?
    :cross:He need go.

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