Note: This post explores the differences between the verbs need and require. It may not explain all cases, but I hope it provides some insight that could be useful to English language learners or teachers.
Introduction: To Need or To Require?
Often, the verbs need and require can be used as synonyms (i.e. they are the same). However, through my years teaching English, I have occasionally come across sentences in which the verb "need" doesn't seem to fit. The purpose of this page is to explain those cases. Let's look at the below sentences, for example.
- This job needs patience. (This seems wrong -- the job requires patience -- it doesn't need it).
- The meeting will need at least 1 hour. (Wrong again -- the meeting will require an hour -- it doesn't need it)
This got me thinking -- what is the rule? What's the difference between the verbs need and require?
Firstly, let's look at a few examples of the verb need and how we can paraphrase the sentences.
- I need a glass of water. (= I want / desire / would like a glass of water because it's important)
- The cat needs some food. (= It wants / desires / would like food because it's important)
Judging by these examples, to need something requires volition (will). In other words, something that needs has to be alive; it has to be able to have needs that can be fulfilled. Compare:
- You need patience to be a doctor. (Correct = you, a person, can have needs)
- Being a doctor needs patience. (Wrong = 'Being a doctor', the subject, is a thing, not a person. It cannot need anything.)
One Exception: Personification
Personification is we talk about non-human objects (such as cars or trees) like they are alive -- for example: the stars danced in the sky. We use the verb need in this way sometimes too. For example.
- Your car needs oil.
- Your bathroom needs a cleaning.
In both these sentences, we seem to be giving the subjects (car, house) the ability to need something, as if it were a person. These may be exceptions to the above rule.
From the above, we can formulate this general rule: Living things can need while objects generally cannot need something.
So, if we go back to our first two sentences above ("This job
needs requires patience. / The meeting will need require an hour."), we now have a reason why 'need' is unnatural: because the subjects cannot have needs. Next, there is one more distinction between the two verbs.
A Nuance: To Require = To Cause to Be Necessary
This is one of the definitions of require according to my Apple/Oxford dictionary. Again, let's look at two examples to illustrate this difference.
- My job requires computer skills. (Correct)
- I require computer skills. (Unnatural)
The first sentence is correct. Your job creates the need/requirement for computer skills. It is the cause of the need. Your job requires the skills, and you need the skills.
Think of it in the passive voice and ask yourself: why are computer skills required? Answer: Your job (not you).
This explanation also works well with our first two examples.
- My job
needsrequires patience. (Correct -- Why is patience required? Answer: Your job)
- The meeting will
needrequire at least an hour. (Correct -- Why will an hour be needed? Answer: the meeting)
Reminder: To Need and Require Are Often Synonyms
Using the two rules above, we can see why the verbs can be used synonymously sometimes. Take another example:
- My boss needs the report by 5 p.m. (Correct = Your boss wants/desires/would like it because it's important)
- My boss requires the report by 5 p.m. (Correct = Why is the report required? Because of your boss. He has caused the requirement/necessity)
Summary and Closing
- Generally, living things need something.
- To require is to cause something to be necessary. Ask yourself Why is it required? The answer should be the subject of your sentence.
I'll admit, this is complicated, and there are a few exceptions that may not fit into this rule. Look at the sentence The soup needs more salt, for example. Firstly, the soup is an inanimate object without needs. Who needs the salt? You do. You need salt for your soup (this is a perfect sentence). Secondly, why is the salt required? It's because of you (not the soup -- it's important for you). Following my rules, the sentence should be: I need/require salt for my soup. However, we say "The soup needs salt."
Why? Have we gotten lazy in our language? Or are we thinking of the soup as something that has needs? Am I totally wrong? Possibly. But there's no point worrying about cases when the flexibility allows the verb to be used in a different situation; instead, we only need to worry about sentences in which one verb cannot be used well. That's the point of this post.
Lastly, there may be some of you who see a sentence like "The meeting will need a break" and think it sounds fine. If so, you are less of a prescriptivist than I am. Be happy.
Do you think you understand? Take the Need vs Require quiz below.
Choose the correct verb: Need or Require
1. The software 250 megabytes of disk space.
2. You 250 megabytes of disk space to use the software.
3. Immigrants money to move to another country.
4. Moving to another country money.
5. His job long hours of work.
1-requires, 2-need, 3-need, 4-requires, 5-requires
Questions? Comments? Find a Mistake?
I hope this has helped you understand the difference between need and require. If you have a question, please ask it in the comments section below.
-Matthew Barton of Englishcurrent.com (Copyright)
Thanks for making understand the differece between need n require.
Good! Thanks too!
Wow- excellent explanation. How can I join in so that I can receive newsletters, updates, comments etc. Looked around and couldn’t find any subscription icon/page
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Hello, I did click on LIKE but haven’t seen any updates plus when I comment on a new thred, I don’t receive any notifications until I come back and check it.
Thank you so much sir. Now. I think. I am capable to use those words in different purposes.
Thank you! This really helped.
This is a wonderful site. It was very helpful.
thank you very much for the excellent post. I’m now much clearer about the difference of these two words.
I have one idea just for a discussion:
if the subject is functionally or emotionally related to human or human needs then it might be possible to use need as well.
for example: the river needs a bridge. the computer needs a upgrade.
That’s interesting. But can you give an example sentence of a subject that is not functionally or emotionally related to human needs?
Learning a language
needsrequires patience. <-- This seems just as related to our needs as the river example.
Understanding the context can help to identify which one we should use. To need means something up to us to do it or not and to require means something an obligation we must do it.
Great explanation! Thanks!
Very thorough explanation and it was very helpful.
Thank you !
Very clear to understand.
very well explained, thank you.
Now I understand the difference between “need” and “require”. Very nice explanation.
Which word should be used in the following sentence –
Please let me know if any help is needed/required ?
Both make sense but have a slightly different nuance. “Please let me know if any help is needed” is preferable to me and sounds more helpful, as it is the same as “Please let me know if you need any help” (focusing on helping the person). On the other hand, “Please let me know if any help is required” is less personal. It sounds like less of a favour to the person, but more of a fulfillment of a requirement/duty of the task/job.
His shirt needs a top button. The car needs a new bumper. The fence needs a new coat of paint. The job can’t “need” patience because it “demands” it. “Need” can’t be used in that sense: “We must do as the law requires/demands. Agency/volition has nothing to do with it; it’s a lexical difference you’ve invented an invalid rule to explain.
Please, go ahead then. Explain the lexical difference, as what you’ve written above is not clear.
thank you so much
That’s a wonderful post to go through. I am impressed with the way you’ve explained the difference. Even I had the same doubt but now it’s clear. Thanks a lot for clearing my doubt.
I am not satisfied with the analysis made here. Let’s discuss in a more detailed analysis.
Yes! Let’s. Please begin the discussion.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for explaining the difference between need and require so easily. I feel u should have given more examples.
thanks for information
As an English Language beginner, I’m confused to use the verb ‘need or require’ before . Thank you very much for your explanation.
Thank you very much for your good explanation.
After looking at your two examples for “need” which don’t seem to fit for you, I just conclude that this is a dialect-based thing. In my dialect (which is pretty close to RP) they are both totally fine, and are things I would say myself.
That’s fair. The more flexible language is, the better I suppose.
Thanks it was really helful and easy way to understand thanks
What is the difference between: “I need you to do something” versus “I require you to do something”? Does former means a request and later indicates a command?
Hi. Though I’d never thought about it before, I would agree with your assessment. ‘I require you to’… sounds stronger and a little more formal. It’s probably the formality that makes it seem stronger — it sounds like something a powerful authority would say.
Thank you, you help me undstand this matter. More power!
Someone said the word require should be used professionally and the word need is unacceptable.
The patient needs a wheelchair. This sentence is said to be incorrect when used professionally. The resident requires a wheelchair is said to be professionally correct.
In sentences where either word is interchangeable, I agree that the ‘require’ sounds more professional.
I’m confused I thought you mentioned that a living thing has a need and the work need should be used not require.
People can require things. The main difference is that non-living things (e.g. a meeting) cannot ‘need’ something.
Explained in a very lucid way with proper examples. Easy to understand. Fine and fantastic. Sir, please go on posting such nuances of English words.
Thank you very much.
* Word not work