Wanted native (British) speakers to answer if Example 3 is at all possible:

  1. Your house wants cleaning: it is in need of cleaning, is in want of cleaning, is lacking in cleaning. (Transitive "concealed" Passive Voice, no problem here).

  2. Your friend wants relationships: he is in need of...in want of...lacking in relationships. (No one should have a problem with it).

  3. Your friend wants going to parties: he is in want of going to parties. (Intransitive, zero Passive meaning). Note, I am not trying to say: he wants to go...rather, he lacks something (expressed by a gerund). He wants attending parties, there's a lack of his attending parties.

Though it may sound book-ish, and probably uncommon in everyday speech, but is it still possible as a way of expression? Why/Why not? Many thanks for contributing.

  • I'm not sure that works when you have a prepositional phrase attached to the verb.
    – Kevin
    Oct 4 '18 at 21:13
  • None of your three sentences use want in the sense of lack of. It is understood to mean desires in all three, hence 1. does not translate as "is in want of cleaning". Want's use in the lacking sense is pretty uncommon now. You find it in some fixed phrases from long ago, but that's about it.
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 5 '18 at 1:19
  • 1
    @PhilSweet I have to disagree with you there. “The house wants cleaning” means “the house requires cleaning”, certainly not “the house desires cleaning” (which semantically is nonsense). Nothing uncommon about this construction in my experience, though I would consider it somewhat dialectal, perhaps even a bit ‘rustic’ in tone. Oct 5 '18 at 1:23
  • I may be a bit off here because I grew up in Western PA and "the house wants cleaning/cleaned" is the exact same structure to me as "the dog needs walking/walked" or "the car wants gassing up/gassed up". It is a middle voice construction of sorts. When used in the lacking sense, it always comes with prepositions. I also use the before want in this sense.
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 5 '18 at 2:15
  • 1
    Generally speaking, that sense of "want" is anachronistic, and is only used in certain idiomatic settings.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 5 '18 at 2:30

Native British speaker here! Example 3 sounds very awkward (to say the least). Nowadays, you might say something like "My friend misses going to..." or "My friend should/needs to go to...", etc.. I can't even think of an outdated example of using "want" with a gerund in the sense you mean.

Can I ask why you asked this question?

  • This question is a result of a discussion between two people, one of whom tried to prove that any language is (mostly) based on logical "extrapolations", and the other kept saying "WANT + GERUND never works". If we can say: She wanted (was lacking in) strength. She wanted (needed or was lacking in) teaching. WHY can't we also say: She wanted going to more doctors. Should the intransitive usage stop me from using a gerund in the last example? Why? If the gerund can be thought of as a noun, why can't we replace " want (lack) something" with " want (lack) going to more doctors"?
    – Chef
    Oct 4 '18 at 23:32
  • 3
    @Chef Well, it’s clearly not true that want + gerund never works, because “the house wants cleaning” is also want + gerund. The trouble is that want/need/require + gerund specifically means that the subject requires an agent to [verb] it – that is, the subject is the underlying patient of the verb, and it is indeed a kind of covert passive. If the verb is intransitive and not passivisable, then the construction breaks down and doesn’t work. (I agree with Mark that example 3 is borderline, if not completely, ungrammatical.) Oct 5 '18 at 1:30

OOD has this to say about want,

EDIT Corrected as pointed out by Laurel.

British with present participle (of a thing) require to be attended to in a specified way. ‘the wheel wants greasing’

  • I don't think that's an example of "WANT + GERUND".
    – Laurel
    Oct 4 '18 at 22:34
  • No, but it is a simple step from the OOD to the OP's examples. Oct 4 '18 at 22:48
  • I don't see the relevance, so you're going to have to add an explanation. The relevant definition is surely the one marked "British [with present participle]", right?
    – Laurel
    Oct 4 '18 at 22:58
  • @Laurel Thank you. I should have looked more carefully. Oct 5 '18 at 0:01
  • Thanks for your input, however I have a problem with [present participle], which is clearly a [gerund]: ‘the wheel wants (what?) greasing' Synonyms need, be in need of, stand in need of, require, demand, cry out for. "The wheel stands in need of (what?) greasing".....nothing to do with Present Participle.
    – Chef
    Oct 5 '18 at 0:29

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