Basically, I wonder if there are restrictions on what can serve as a subject to the verb need. The sentence that started this comes from a recent EL&U question:

Successfully doing this needs a deep understanding of coding.

The subject of the sentence is formed by a gerund, doing, which refers to a task or action. It makes sense. However, I would never say this myself. A person may need something, but an occasion requires something. The gerund feels better placed with a different verb:

Successfully doing this requires a deep understanding of coding.

On reflection, I suspect that need, as a verb, may be restricted to taking people or things as subjects:

The boss needs someone who has a deep understanding of coding.

Merriam-Webster wasn't useful for tracking this distinction. The Oxford English Dictionary quotations feature personal nouns, pronouns, objects, or impersonal pronouns as subjects. I notice the specification of person and thing in this definition:

8.a. To require (a person) to do something; to require (a thing) to do or be something.

However, this isn't restrictive. It's possible that gerund subjects for need are valid in some cases, or that other subdefinitions accommodate the usage. I appreciate any help figuring out what formal or informal expectations influence what can serve as a subject to need.

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    If anything it would be the other way around, with require being more appropriate for persons or things given that its meaning is related to asking for something, while to need refers to necessity, which could be logical, or causal necessity. – user337391 Mar 5 '19 at 14:31
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    "The problem of genetics of high- and low- level requirements for various trace elements in plants needs more study. " – TRomano Mar 5 '19 at 14:43
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    "There needs a way to ensure that the user ID is unique and that they are not re-used or re-allocated." (2005) I suspect this is a regionalism now. "There is not a more striking instance of the former any where to be met with, than in our separation from the Church of Rome, which before we go about to explain, there needs a few things to be cleared." (1823) – TRomano Mar 5 '19 at 14:52
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    I think the difference lies in a connotation of immediacy vs. essentiality. All machines require maintenance, but my car needs a new tire. Either word could be used in either sentence, but the more common usage, I think, is as I described it. Because certain subjects lend themselves to one or the other of these uses, it may seem that certain categories of noun "take" one or the other of these verbs. But I'd be surprised to find a rule about it. – remarkl Mar 5 '19 at 15:28
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    "Driving faster needs more control and a steady hand on the steering wheel." – TRomano Mar 5 '19 at 15:52

One way to formulate a rule to choose between "require" and "need" is by looking at the subject that requires/needs something:

  • If the subject is alive, use "need". Example: "I need a glass of water."
  • If the subject is inanimate, use "require". Example: "This job requires patience."
  • BUT if a thing requires something to fulfill the needs of someone (alive), use "need". Example: "The soup needs more salt." (it's actually you who need the soup to have more salt, so we use "need")
  • In some cases, it's a toss-up. Example: "My boss needs the report by 5 p.m." and "My boss requires the report by 5 p.m." are both acceptable.

Source: https://www.englishcurrent.com/grammar/difference-need-require-verbs/

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