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My question is about the regional acceptability of sentences such as the following:

  • You need your eyes testing.
  • I need my hair cutting.
  • I want my car washing.

The second example is given in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p. 1231), without any mention of geographic restrictions. This type of construction is also discussed on Language Log.

It is clear that for many Britons these kinds of sentences are perfectly normal, though in the cases I've encountered, the speakers have been from northern England.

At the same time, it is just as clear that the construction is unacceptable to most North Americans, myself included. We would instead say: "You need your eyes tested," or possibly "Your eyes need testing." In fact, I was surprised at first that people anywhere could say this kind of thing.

My main question is what the degree of acceptability is of this construction in:

  1. the spoken English of southern England; and
  2. formal written British English.

I ask the latter question because one would expect that a construction occurring with any frequency in British writing would be at least somewhat familiar to educated North Americans, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Examples taken from well-edited, older prose by a variety of British writers would best answer this part of the question.

Though this is not central to my question, I would also be curious to hear views on this construction from English-speakers in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, or on spoken Scottish usage. I do not want or need confirmation from North Americans that it is unacceptable to them, or from Northerners that it occurs in their speech.

  • Somehow, as an AmE speaker, listening to BrE all the time, I would go for: Your eyes will need testing, then." – Lambie Feb 2 at 13:03
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    The hair cutting example is a little better than the others, provided "hair cutting" is taken as an event (i.e. a noun phrase), as opposed to some kind of verb phrase etc. – Lawrence Feb 2 at 13:46
  • @Lawrence Could you please say what variety of English you are referring to? (If it's British, please specify the region and whether it's written or spoken.) – Dave Feb 2 at 14:00
  • @Dave This should be international, but I claim only AuE these days. – Lawrence Feb 2 at 14:22
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    @tchrist A northern English informant (who habitually uses the construction my question is about) tells me that "my car needs washed" is not used in their area, but that it strikes them as being typically Scottish. I also know that it is used in western Pennsylvania. – Dave Feb 2 at 14:36

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