Stop Dropping To Be After Words like ‘Needs’ or ‘Wants!’


A relatively new bad habit, dropping to be in certain sentences, began to quickly ascend my list of grammatical pet peeves.

I don’t know who started the practice of randomly dropping to be in sentences. But I do wish people would stop it.

I offer an example. I saw a commercial for a local business that remodels bathrooms. The opening copy began this way…please read this out loud:

Have you noticed your bathroom shower lately? Is it stained from years of use? Is the color outdated and needs replaced? Or maybe you want to convert that old bath into an easy step-in shower?

I really hope it jumped out at you. But let me repeat the offending sentence:

Is the color outdated and needs replaced?

In any normal corner of the English-speaking world, a grammar teacher would have a field day with her red pencil.

Needs replaced?

Who on earth thinks that sounds correct?

I hope you agree you should follow needs with “to be replaced” or “replacing.”

I really hope you agree.

There’s a right way to do it.

As the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project points out, verbs like needs, wants and likes typically require one of two things. You can use an infinitive verb form or a verbal noun known as a gerund.

You make an infinitive by adding to [be] before it. Or, you turn a verb into a gerund by adding the -ing suffix.

They provide the following example from a car wash sign:

Does your car need detailed?

If that doesn’t bother you like fingernails being scraped down a chalkboard, I’m probably not going to consider you an authority on grammar. I’m just saying….

Need to be detailed. Or need detailing. Either should sound correct.

I hope you agree.

Over at The Glass Block, Barbara Johnstone calls such constructions “non-standard complementation patterns.”

“To say that a language form is “non-standard” simply means that it is not the choice we would normally see in carefully edited, formal writing—not that it is “wrong” in everyday speech,” she adds.

I’m afraid I’d have to dispute that. The most famous “non-standard” word is irregardless. That should never be acceptable, either.

Mignon Fogarty, who hosts the GrammarGirl podcast, points out that Pittsburgh is the epicenter for this kind of sentence. But, she says, you can also find it throughout Pennsylvania, roughly as far west as Iowa, as far North as southern Michigan, and as far south as northern West Virginia.

For examples with wants or likes, she offers “The dog wants walked,” and “The dog likes petted.”

That poor dog. Maybe he’ll bite the speaker.

As a Southerner, I know of no area with more of a corner of the market on butchering English than mine. Sometimes, I think Southerners spend time searching for ways to get grammar wrong.

But I feel pride that even the South wouldn’t approve of this kind of thing. I really do.

The rest of us can hope that those other regions will one day stop accepting it, too.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

You tell me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Does dropping to be after verbs like needs bother you?

1 Comment

  1. Yes, it bothers me! The sentence needs (to be) fixed, but I don’t know why it needs fixation. 😉 Of course, I’m slightly bothered, if not just amused, by “step-in shower.” I can’t imagine myself choosing to enter any other way; not diving or falling in, certainly. 🙂

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.