Date: Fri, 7 Apr 1995 02:00:00 LCL


Subject: Re: needs + present participle

Now I'm doubting my own recollections. Several have written that "X needs

a washing" is grammatical in their dialects. Is "X needs washing" grammatical

in the dialects of anybody? I'm not alone out here, am I?

Greg Pulliam

it's grammatical to me.

my car needs washing.

my hair needs trimming.

my arbor needs pruning.

my lectures need preparing.

my chair needs mending.

but, i prefer:

my paper needs to be written. vs. ?my paper needs writing.

my gut reaction is that this is b/c the papers don't exist yet. "my

paper needs revising" is fine. but this explanation might be

thwarted by the lecture example above. but then, maybe it's related

to "*my used books need selling" which seems weird to me because it

does not benefit my books to be sold. or, it doesn't change my books

to be sold (it only changes my storage space and my pocket).


*my mother needs writing (to).

(but: my mother needs to be written (to) once a week.)

*my friend needs calling.

(but: my friend needs to be called.)

*my students need helping.

(but: my students need help/to be helped)

perhaps it's the case that in the present participle cases, it

doesn't have to be the possessor of the object that is the

understood agent of the participle--the agent seems to be

unspecified in a way that it isn't w/ a passive paraphrase of the

same. i.e., in the case of "my car needs washing" we needn't assume

that i have to wash it (i could hire a kid to do it), but w/ my

mother, it doesn't satisfy her if the publisher's clearinghouse

writes to her--she isn't "written to" in this context unless i (or

someone else made relevant by the context) do it. again, though,

i think that the lecture example works against this hypothesis.

incidentally, all of the above are true, so:

my nerves need calming.