This needs burned.

I have a friend who was casually talking and then murmured, “This needs burned.”

My other friends and I have never let her forget it.

She meant to say, “This needs to be burned.” So, why omit the letters?

The strangest thing about the phrase is that I have never heard anyone else use that grammar. Keep in mind that while I’ve traveled a good amount, most of my U.S. travel was when I was young, and I’ve only lived in the northeast. It may have come from the relatives on her mother’s side of the family, who live in Texas.

Is it a southern thing? Have you ever heard people saying, “The gas tank needs filled,” or perhaps, “The kids need dressed nicely,” at any given moment?

It’s one of the phrases that just comes from nowhere.

Now that I think about it, I can’t remember the thing that needed to be burned in the first place. What needs to be burned? A pirate map?

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33 responses to “This needs burned.

  1. I used to date a guy from Virginia who would say “this needs ironed” and I would get so upset, yelling back “no, it needs TO BE ironed or it needs ironing!” Maybe it is a Southern thing, if we can really consider VA the south…

  2. Maybe we are looking at it the wrong way.

    “This” could be a demonstrative pronoun, while “needs” is really “need’s,” short for “need is.”

    Therefore, we get, “this need’s burned.” It all makes sense! It was not a call for pyrotechnics of any sort. It was a call for help! Her needs – her innermost emotions – are groping for safety from the flames of horror that have gripped her life since she could remember!

    Or something like that.

  3. Polonius: This is too long.
    Hamlet: It shall to the barber, with your beard.

    Hamlet (elsewhere): I shall to my truckle bed.

    The auxiliary is used, with no need for the verb. It makes for a sharp, concise line.

  4. I know exactly where it comes from – Pittsburgh! I’ve heard this quite often there. For some reason, they only omit “to be” after using the word needs. I’ve heard:

    My hair needs cut
    The tank needs filled
    My shoes need tied

    For some reason, I don’t think you’d hear, “The kids need dressed nicely.” Even though it fits the template, it’s more complex than the basic <object> needs [to be] <verb> structure. I could be wrong on that, though. Any Pittsburgians reading here?

    Also, I’ve lived in, worked in, or visited, quite a few parts of Texas… and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard it down there.

  5. In Yorkshire, England, a peculiar idiom caused problems in an industrial mill with the turn of phrase, “Don’t turn boiler on whilst water’s in.”

    Said to a young lad by the experienced Yorkshire man, he meant “Do not turn on the boiler until water is inside it.”

    The youth didn’t appreciate that, locally, “whilst” was used to mean “until.”

    It blew up.

  6. Eric Jay is right. It’s definitely Pennsylvania thing. Tons of people I knew when I was in college in PA never used “to be” in their sentences.

  7. That’s interesting, considering Beth only lived in PA AFTER she said it. (Is Beth upset you use her as a frequent example?) And, yeah, “This needs burned” made my skin crawl when she said it. I think I remember her mom saying something similar, but not with “burned” and I think Beth has used that sentence structure elsewhere.

  8. Interesting stuff! As you can see, Alexa has revealed my friend’s identity, and she did go to college in eastern Pennsylvania, but she said the phrase out loud in high school.

    Maybe the college made such an impact on her that she immediately adopted the slang as her own.

    My college roommate (and frequent poster) Kelly Anne (along with her brother, frequent poster Jeff), is from just outside Philadelphia and doesn’t say it.

    They don’t say it on Queer as Folk. That show is set in Pittsburgh.

  9. My grandparents, who have listed just outside of Philadelphia for about 40 or more years, never use this sort of phrasing. Maybe it is a western Pennsylvania phrase? Maybe someone from Erie can confirm.

  10. This is definitely Western Pennsylvanian. I grew up in Erie, with parents from Pittsburgh, and didn’t even REALIZE that there should be a “to be” after the needs until I went to college in Boston (and for the record, I did well in English classes, my parents were both well-educated, hell I got an 800 on my English SAT’s, etc. I really should have known better.)

    I tended (and still do sometimes!) to use this in situations like:
    “The lawn needs mowed”
    “The car needs washed”
    “The dishes need cleaned”
    etc – only now, 8 years removed from PA + much mocked throughout college, are these starting to sound awkward.

    I don’t think you’d use the phrase
    “The kids need dressed nicely” – that sounds weird to me. But I think you could use “The kids need dressed in their Sunday best.” “The dishes need washed before the guests come.” Etc.

    Anyways sorry for this random post, I’ve just always found the subject interesting.

  11. Just to clarify for you, southerners are not dumb. Rather, they are quite intelligent. They have Rice, UT, Vanderbilt, Shiner Bock, and BBQ, bitches.

    ps. The people in the south will actually say hello to you on the street.

    pps. Paula Deen is southern.

  12. You forgot to mention the prestigious Washington and Lee University! If VA still counts as the South . . . well, it was the capital of the Confederacy.

  13. Now that you mention it, that ex grew up in the Pittsburgh area. I think you’re on to something – it isn’t a south thing, it’s a PA thing. Interesting…

  14. I lived in Pittsburgh for several years and found that quirk too. In fact, I believe it was included in one of those city primers…
    We used to have the joke – imagine Hamlet had lived in Pittsburgh, his famous line would have been “Or not” :)

  15. I think you might find that this form of sentence construction is most prevalent in areas where there is a relatively large number of people whose ancestors hailed from Ireland.
    My husband is from Northern Ireland, and finds it strange to hear me say (for example) “needs cleaning” or “needs to be cleaned” rather than “needs cleaned”, as the last form is almost universally used there.

  16. Did anything in these comments prompt what the anon had to say about the South? No one even suggested that the South was dumb, yet the poster was quick to defend it. I think one could probably add a P.P.S. to that post: Southerners are touchy.

  17. Hi Kate-
    Beth has stopped omitting the “to be,” but I continue to say things like “this needs washed” or “my room needs cleaned.” And I probobly always will.
    And I think she had been saying that way before Muhlenberg.
    -Amy

  18. PS: The Pittsburgh thing makes sense, my grandparents (Mama Jeanne and Gradfather) are from Pittsburgh, and my mom says things like that, and now so do Beth and I.
    Still doesn’t bother me.
    -Amy

  19. And with that comment, the mystery is solved!

    I had no idea your grandparents were originally from Pittsburgh.

    Thanks, Amy and everyone else.

  20. I’m English, and it’s a construction I’d use informally. I’m not sure which part of the country I picked it up from, probably the South West of England. I associate it with family usage.

    I think it could be used with want too as in: “that child wants fed”, but even so I think it’s got a sense of urgency to it. I wouldn’t say “the techtonic plate wants moved”. Bad example, but you get the idea.

    I consider it to be an alternative to the present participle and would correct my language to “needs ironing” rather than to “needs to be ironed”.

    Interesting post, and interesting discussion.

    Aphra.

  21. I lived in North Carolina for four years, and never heard this construction. When I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, I heard it quite frequently. (“The dishes need washed,” etc.)

    Another strange omission-type construction that I hear in Philadelphia, where I live now, is, “Are you done your homework?” Where’s the “with” ?

  22. I have a friend who grew up in Pennsylvania and Ohio. She constantly says, “The yard needs mowed.” She’s very smart, but this is what is normal for her.

    Also, I’m from Georgia. Southerners are a little touchy because there are more than a few people who automatically think that a drawl equals stupidity. We’re constantly having to overcome something stupid. Thanks, Dukes of Hazzard (I would like to italicize that, but don’t know how.)! We’d just about overcome the TV show and then they made that God-forsaken movie.

  23. I live in Oregon and have a friend that says “this needs cleaned”. It drives me nuts! One day we were talking about people driving without a front license plate and she said “I don’t want pulled over”. I guess “to be” is just not in her vocabulary.

  24. I hear it in Erie all the time, and it drives me crazy. I have never heard this anywhere else. If it’s a regional thing, like people in Pittsburgh saying “y’ins,” then … well … then people need told that it’s not correct. It needs explained them. They need educated. People need told they sound like idiots. This phrasing needs eliminated.

  25. Must be challenging to perform Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Erie…

    LEN

  26. Whoops – that’s what I get for not catching up on all the comments!

    LEN

  27. I’m from Erie, PA and I DO NOT say, “my car needs washed”!!! I moved to Pittsburgh about 8 years ago and hear this abomination on a daily basis.

  28. Isn’t “this needs to be burned” incorrect anyway because of the pronoun-reference issue?

  29. I just relocated (temporarily) to Erie, PA and “Your car needs washed” was said to me last week and I could have screamed. I have lived in upstate NY, Maine, and central and eastern PA and have never heard this before. The person who said it is an Erie native, never moved anywhere.

  30. I grew up in Erie thinking that “needs ironed” was correct. It was only when I moved south that I was told it was incorrect. Of course I argued with my southern friends until I asked an English prof.

  31. I’m British (although I live in the US) and I use this all the time.

  32. My in-laws are from Pittsburgh and use this form ALL THE TIME! It makes me want to shove sharp things in my ears! I stopped by because I just caught a friend from Kansas saying “my car needs repaired”; unfortunately I don’t know if he has roots in PA.

    I comment because I’m looking for a concise explanation of why this form is incorrect. I’d like to believe that I’m reasonably adept with grammar, but applying names to grammatical rules is beyond my ken. Any help?

  33. With a little additional Google work, I discovered this article from the Boston Globe:

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2007/11/11/lawn_needs_cut/

    It’s a nice short piece on the subject, and brings up an interesting point: “He needs the car washed.” is acceptable, so why not “The car needs washed.”? The only difference in my limited expertise is passive construction versus active construction.

    I know this post is ancient by internet standards but my previous question still stands. I’m an engineer – by state-of-mind if not profession – so I prefer my world wrapped up in a neat framework of rules. Grammar may be the wrong place to look for such a thing, but I have to try!

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