I'm from Western Pennsylvania. Until I moved away, I never realized that when I omitted the to be from phrases like needs to be cleaned, my usage was different than what most English speakers are accustomed to. Is it wrong?


I have never been introduced to the behavior in this question Central Pennsylvanian English speakers: what are the limitations on the "needs washed" construction? so I'm surprised ... Also duly informed. ;)

For the "rest of us" it's my experience that it's almost always appropriate to include the "to be" in a phrase.

I'm trying to track down a way to know that it should be done, but generally I've found that if you say "needs" or "wants" you either say to be _________ed or _________ing depending on the case of the verb that you want to use.

Some cases:

My dog needs to be walked.
My dog needed bathing.

A similar use case:

We need to do laundry.
The laundry needs to be done.

Using want:

I wanted to go to the park.
I wanted to take a shower.
I wanted to bathe my dog.

I'm just not sure what the original context would've been to offer corrections. Maybe with some more concrete examples from the region?


I spent four undergrad years in Pittsburgh. This was the only place where I had heard the construction such as

The car needs washed.

An interesting article by the Grammar Girl gives the name of the phenomenon (infinitival copula deletion), the name of an academic researcher (Barbara Johnstone), and whether it passes the cover letter test.

Grammar Girl's measured response: OK for North Midland, but "wrong everywhere else."

There's also a Google Map of where the Grammar Girl's Facebook and Google+ friends had heard the construction. This may not be scientifically rigorous, but it's interesting.


  • Don't depend on Grammar Girl; she's just passing on what she learned in grade school. – John Lawler May 27 '18 at 16:03

I'm from central Ohio and use the "needs __ed" construction. I often use it at work where I say things like, "this bug needs fixed because ..." The only person who's ever commented is a colleague from Philadelphia (eastern Pennsylvania). I dislike all "to be" constructions because they're passive voice, so I rewrite using, "we need to fix this bug because..." rather than use "this bug needs to be fixed..."

  • I definitely like the change between passive and active voice, so that's a strong business case. :D +1 – jcolebrand Dec 3 '12 at 15:19
  • Your usage is just as much passive voice as that with to be. And what's so wrong about the passive voice anyway? It's a perfectly valid and useful voice that should be used (!) wherever appropriate and idiomatic. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 8 '14 at 11:28

Consider the sentence "This light-bulb needs changed." In this sentence, the light-bulb is the subject, and "needs" is the verb. Therefore "changed" is the direct object. Since you are using a verb as a direct object, you have a gerund.

The verb "needs" is in the present tense, so it follows that the gerund should be as well. However, the gerund could be either active or passive. If it is active, then you should say "The light-bulb needs changing." If it is passive, you should say "The light-bulb needs to be changed.", since "be changed" is the present passive of "change".

Since the light-bulb is the subject, but not the one doing the verb, I would say that in this example, the gerund should be passive.

All that being said, it would seem that this acceptable for spoken language, but not written. In conversational English we often omit words anyways.


Someone may have already said this, I'm sorry I didn't bother to read the other responses. In your sentence, "needs" is the subject. So, when you say "Needs cleaned" you are literally saying that what has been cleaned, are your needs. Now, having said that, I understand that this phrase would accompany what you intend your subject to be: "The car needs cleaned". In this case, the best, albeit irrational, deduction one could make is that your sentence lacks a comma after needs, denoting that the car needs have been cleaned; namely, your subject becomes "car needs". Yes, it is wrong. Either "needs cleaning" or "needs to be cleaned".

  • "Needs" is not the subject. "Needs cleaned" is not a sentence, it is a phrase. – Thomas Aug 19 '14 at 12:12

protected by tchrist Aug 18 '14 at 15:44

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.