I am confused as to when to use "a need" and "the need".

I felt a/the need to take a shower.

With this sentence, we are assuming that there was no mention about the need to take shower before.

I do not think it is defined by first mentioned rule. I am assuming that it depends on the speaker.

If the speaker acknowledges that it is a definite need, that of taking a shower, then he will use "the".

If he feels no need to denote its definiteness and acknowledges that it is told for the first time, he will use "a".

Am I right?

  • There is no real difference in meaning between Feel a need and Feel the need. No rule is in play here; "feel a need" and "feel the need" are mildly idiomatic in English, and both express only Need or Want. In fact, a common definition of the verb Want is to feel a need or a desire for. Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 21:31
  • @P.E.Dant Thank you! So there is no definiteness involved with "the need"?
    – whitedevil
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 21:32
  • Neither "definiteness" nor "indefiniteness." In this case, "feel a/the need" probably connotes only "need" or "want:" "I needed (or wanted) to take a shower." Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 21:36
  • @P.E.Dant What about "there was a/the need to..."? Is it related to definiteness?
    – whitedevil
    Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 21:37
  • Without context, there's no good answer. Commented Aug 14, 2016 at 21:48

1 Answer 1


Your question on use "a need" versus "the need" is subtle.
"A" in more general and generic than "the", but often they are interchangeable.

There is a need to improve things.
There is a general desire to improve things

There is the need to improve education.
There is a specific desire to improve schooling

The company has a need for a marketing director.
the company would like to have a marketing director

The company has the need for a marketing director.
the company urgently needs a marketing director

One of the most famous examples for "the" is

I feel the need, the need for speed


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