Must needs - needs must.


Senior Member
Spain Spanish
Dear Friends, there is a line in a verse that is driving me crazy, would anybody be so kind as to clear my head? all ideas are welcome, thanks, regards:
Gay in the conquest of these fears, I grew
So rash that I must needs the sheaf divide
Of ruffled kisses heaven itself had tied.
  • elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I must needs = I need

    I must needs the sheaf divide = I must needs divide the sheaf = I need to divide the sheaf



    Senior Member
    British English
    Hi Laura. I was discussing usage, rather than "correct" grammar.

    I have heard "needs must" + infinitive, but it's rather archaic now. I have a feeling that there are common regional uses of the construction, but can't think of any at the moment.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Needs must is listed in the OED with many reputable examples. There is a separate entry for needs must where it relates to the devil driving.

    There is no suggestion of a preference for the placing of the adverb either before or after the modal auxiliary.

    Just in case anyone might think I wrote that sentence completely unaided and from a profound understanding of its meaning, I should explain that headings in the OED under needs (adverb) include:
    II. With the modal auxiliaries [...] must, emphasizing the sense of the verb.
    Now literary and poet. except in sense 3b.
    3. a. Immediately preceding the modal auxiliary (needs must).
    b. needs must: it is necessary or unavoidable.
    4. Immediately following the modal auxiliary (must needs).

    I have been reading Professor S.B.Chrimes' biography of Henry VII for my AS studies, and I have come across a grammatical structure that I have never experienced before. Regarding his foreign policy, Chrimes states that "[Henry] must needs vindicate his pledge to support Brittany" (pg281) and also "Any further advance must needs wait on events" (pg279). Is the "such needs" a proper grammatical construction, or is it merely a typo?


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello evilcheeseman, and welcome to WordReference.

    I have added your question to the end of previous threads on this topic. I hope you find the earlier posts useful.


    American English
    I've seen "must needs" as a locution in the present tense before, but I'm reading Kim by Rudyard Kipling, and I've come across a usage in the past tense that's got me flummoxed. Is there some kind of subjunctive going on here? What is the rule behind this? Are there ever any similar constructions used with other verbs?

    "He loosed a thin stream into Kim's hands, who drank native-fashion; but the lama must needs pull out a cup from his inexhaustible upper draperies and drink ceremonially."

    Thanks for any help!!!


    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello Marseille - welcome to the forums!

    Must was originally a past tense, and there are still faint remnants of that history. As the OED says, though,
    In modern use [must as a past tense is] mostly confined to instances of oblique narration, and of the virtual oblique narration in which the speaker has in his mind what might have been said or thought at the time.
    By 'oblique narration', the OED means reported/indirect speech;). I'd say that in actual indirect speech it's still usable as a past tense today; but in virtual indirect speech it sounds decidedly old-fashioned.

    Kipling's using it as virtual indirect speech, and the collocation must needs is, of course, itself archaic.

    You might be interested in this thread: "Must go" used in past tense?
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    I was about to create an new thread ... but I first searched the forum and found your most enlightening comments. So my question is already answered; I only give here another example of the archaic use of "needs" ans an adverb.

    At the end of the introduction (by Michael Mac Liammoir) of a 1962 edition of Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince and Other Stories", there is this sentence :

    "The poet, being one who has never succeeded in a final closing of those gates [the gates of the Selfish Giant's ancient garden], turns now and then to look back over his shoulder at the forsaken majesty, and then, remembering a little the moods of childhood, he needs must weep."

    Pretty, isn't it ?!
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