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need definition


This page has 9 definitions of need in English, Estonian, and Western Frisian. Need is a noun, verb and pronoun. Examples of how to use need in a sentence are shown. Also define these 0 related words and terms: .

See also: Need and neēd

English need definition


Etymology 1

From Middle English need, nede, a merger of two terms:


need (countable and uncountable, plural needs)

  1. (countable and uncountable) A requirement for something; something needed.
    There's no need to speculate; we can easily find out for sure.
    She grew irritated with his constant need for attention.
    Our needs are not being met.
    I've always tried to have few needs beyond food, clothing and shelter.
    • 1595 December 9 (first known performance), William Shakespeare, “The life and death of King Richard the Second”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act IV, scene i]:
      Being so great, I have no need to beg.
    • 1651, Jer[emy] Taylor, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Francis Ashe [], OCLC 1203220866:
      Be governed by your needs, not by your fancy.
    • 2014 June 14, “It's a gas”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8891:
      One of the hidden glories of Victorian engineering is proper drains. [] But out of sight is out of mind. And that, together with the inherent yuckiness of the subject, means that many old sewers have been neglected and are in dire need of repair.
  2. Lack of means of subsistence; poverty; indigence; destitution.
Usage notes
  • Adjectives often used with “need”: urgent, dire, desperate, strong, unmet, bad, basic, critical, essential, big, terrible, modest, elementary, daily, everyday, special, educational, environmental, human, personal, financial, emotional, medical, nutritional, spiritual, public, developmental, organizational, legal, fundamental, audio-visual, psychological, corporate, societal, psychosocial, functional, additional, caloric, private, monetary, physiological, mental.
Derived terms
See also

Etymology 2

From Middle English neden, from Old English nēodian.


need (third-person singular simple present needs, present participle needing, simple past and past participle needed)

  1. (transitive) To have an absolute requirement for.
    Living things need water to survive.
    • 2011 October 1, Tom Fordyce, “Rugby World Cup 2011: England 16-12 Scotland”, in BBC Sport:
      Scotland needed a victory by eight points to have a realistic chance of progressing to the knock-out stages, and for long periods of a ferocious contest looked as if they might pull it off.
  2. (transitive) To want strongly; to feel that one must have something.
    After ten days of hiking, I needed a shower and a shave.
    • 2013 July-August, Henry Petroski, “Geothermal Energy”, in American Scientist, volume 101, number 4:
      Energy has seldom been found where we need it when we want it. Ancient nomads, wishing to ward off the evening chill and enjoy a meal around a campfire, had to collect wood and then spend time and effort coaxing the heat of friction out from between sticks to kindle a flame. With more settled people, animals were harnessed to capstans or caged in treadmills to turn grist into meal.
  3. (modal verb) To be obliged or required (to do something).
    You need not go if you don't want to.
  4. (intransitive) To be required; to be necessary.
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To be necessary (to someone).
Usage notes
  • The verb need is construed in a few different ways:
    • With a direct object, as in “I need your help.”
    • With a to-infinitive, as in “I need to go.” Here, the subject of need serves implicitly as the subject of the infinitive.
    • With a clause of the form “for [object] to [verb phrase]”, or simply “[object] to [verb phrase]” as in “I need for this to happen” or “I need this to happen.” In both variants, the object serves as the subject of the infinitive.
    • As a modal verb, with a bare infinitive; in negative polarity contexts, such as questions (“Need I say more?” “Need you have paid so much?”), with negative expressions such as not (“It need not happen today”; “No one need ever know”), and with similar constructions (“There need only be one”; “it need be signed only by the president”; “I need hardly explain it”). Need in this use does not have inflected forms, aside from the contraction needn’t.
    • With a gerund-participle, as in “The car needs washing”, or (in certain dialects) with a past participle, as in “The car needs washed”[1] (both meaning roughly “The car needs to be washed”).
    • With a direct object and a predicative complement, as in “We need everyone here on time” (meaning roughly “We need everyone to be here on time”) or “I need it gone” (meaning roughly “I need it to be gone”).
    • In certain dialects, and colloquially in certain others, with an unmarked reflexive pronoun, as in “I need me a car.”
  • A sentence such as “I need you to sit down” or “you need to sit down” is politer than the bare command “sit down”, but less polite than “please sit down”. It is considered somewhat condescending and infantilizing, hence dubbed by some “the kindergarten imperative”, but is quite common in American usage.[1]
  • In older forms of English, when the pronoun thou was in active use, and verbs used -est for distinct second-person singular indicative forms, the verb need had the form needest, and had neededst for its past tense.
  • Similarly, when the ending -eth was in active use for third-person singular present indicative forms, the form needeth was used.
Derived terms
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Dictionary:Entry layout § Translations.


Further reading


Estonian need definition


need (genitive nende, partitive neid)

  1. these, those


See also

West Frisian need definition


From Old Frisian nēd, nād, from Proto-Germanic *naudiz.


need c (plural neden)

  1. need

Derived terms

Further reading

  • need”, in Wurdboek fan de Fryske taal (in Dutch), 2011