Then touching the shoulder of a townsman who stood near to him, he addressed him in a formal and courteous manner:

"I pray you, good Sir," said he, "who is this woman? -- and wherefore is she here set up to public shame?"

"You must needs be a stranger in this region, friend," answered the townsman, looking curiously at the questioner and his savage companion, "else you would surely have heard of Mistress Hester Prynne and her evil doings. She hath raised a great scandal, I promise you, in godly Master Dimmesdale's church. "

As far as I know we always use first form of the verb after "must". For instance: "You must go". We never say "You must goes". Also, we never use -s/es with a verb that comes with "You". What are the circumstances in which writer has used "needs" after "You must" in "You must needs to be a stranger in this region."?


Needs here is not a verb but the noun need = "necessity"; the -s is the genitive suffix which in archaic Englishes might express an adverbial sense, so the word needs may be regarded as an adverb. (Note that The Scarlet Letter is set in the middle of the 17th century, and the dialogue often employs the language of that period, such as hath.) In this case needs means "of necessity, necessarily".

A few such constructions have survived into contemporary English. For instance:

He sleeps days and works nights meaning he sleeps during the day and works at night

And the same construction lies behind once, twice, thrice, though it's concealed in the modern spelling with ‹c› for ‹s›.

EDITED TO ADD, from the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary:

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  • I would appreciate if you give me a proper reference of the meaning of "needs" : Necessarily or of necessity. User3235770 says it means "indeed". Now I am a bit confused, what exactly is the meaning of "needs" ?
    – user40875
    Sep 7 '16 at 22:17
  • 1
    @Amn There you go. See particularly c. Sep 7 '16 at 22:24
  • It's a noun, or is it an adverb? Sep 8 '16 at 5:20
  • 1
    well, I really did fumble that edit commentary. To me, the word ADDED meant that the word or definition had been added to the OED. Whether this is even technically possible for that edition of the OED, I don't know, but it was confusing (something similar is said of newer definitions that have been adde to the OED online). I used 'EDITED TO ADD' (although some people dislike it). Perhaps the simplest thing to do is put 'EDIT'. Sep 8 '16 at 5:27
  • @StoneyB please confirm is "needs" an archaic adverb or an obsolete adverb? Considering it as an archaic word, can I use it in my writing to add a bit of spice of old-fashioned English.
    – user40875
    Sep 10 '16 at 13:56

'you must needs be' is an archaic form of 'you must indeed be', and I don't know of any strict rules that govern its use. I'd venture to say the expression is no more in current use than 'wherefore is she' instead of 'why is she'.

  • Not, I think, indeed but necessarily. Sep 7 '16 at 22:08
  • @user3235770 since I am a bit confused between two different interpretations of "needs" :indeed and necessarily, could you give me a proper reference, please?
    – user40875
    Sep 7 '16 at 22:13
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    @Amn Since you must needs be is not an archaic form of you must indeed be, and since there is no connection at all between needs and "in deed," you will have a very long wait for even an improper reference. Sep 7 '16 at 23:38

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