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Are these two sentences equivalent?

You needn't pay at once.

You don't need to pay at once.

If yes, which one would you recommend? Is it an US/GB thing?

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I think we learned in school they are different, but I forgot what was the difference. I'm curious to know too, so +1 –  RiMMER May 20 '11 at 13:11
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3 Answers

They are equivalent in meaning; however, the non contracted forms would be

You need not pay at once.
You do not need to pay at once.

I think the first is more common in BrE (though I would request confirmation). The second formation is more common is AmE; however, we would more likely say

You don't need to pay right away.

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If the former was more common in BrE it is archaic now - I know not of any person who would speak in such a manner. –  Andy F May 20 '11 at 13:15
It may be archaic for you, @AndyF, it's alive and well for me. But it is true that "need" has been for some while in process of changing from a full auxiliary like "must" into a lexical verb like "want". –  Colin Fine May 20 '11 at 13:34
Perhaps a generational or regional distinction then, @Colin? I know for certain that if I used the construction "You needn't shout" instead of "You don't need to shout" it would be considered rather pretentious. I'm not saying that it's wrong, just that I don't hear many people speak that way from day to day (not that they're necessarily correct either, mind you). –  Andy F May 20 '11 at 13:44
For me, that slightly ironic use in "You needn't shout!" (meaning "please don't shout") is exactly where I would most expect to here "needn't". –  Colin Fine May 21 '11 at 0:26
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I initially just thought needn't is probably more British usage, but that it's becoming increasingly archaic / affected.

So I produced this NGram to support my thinking. Restricting to just American or British doesn't suggest it's much more common in either.

Frankly, I just don't know what to make of this one showing the latest trend.

Nevertheless, I'd still advise OP to use don't need to. I doubt anyone would think that meant he wasn't keeping up with the times.

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You can always count on Google to pleasantly surprise you with a new cool service :) –  Šime Vidas May 20 '11 at 13:37
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We can both use need not and don't need to. However, if needn't is followed by an object, we must use don't need.

For example : You don't need your coat. It's not cold outside.

"Coat" is an object, so it is wrong to say ,"You needn't your coat".

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