For an academic writing, is it correct to say: "This variable needs not to be known."? I would be grateful if you could tell me possible differences in British and American usage.

  • 1
    A variant would be: "This variable need not be known."
    – GEdgar
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:55

3 Answers 3


No. We generally wouldn't use this construction, but what it sounds like you mean is

"This variable needs to not be known."

Ie that we specifically do not want anyone to know what the variable is.

If that is what you intended to say, then you could say that, ie just say "This variable needs to not be known.", although strictly speaking it is us who have the needs, not the variable (a variable doesn't have needs or desires), so we might instead say "We need the variable to remain unknown".

If what you intended to say is that it doesn't matter whether you know it or not, you would say

"This variable does not need to be known.", or, again, putting the needs onto us rather than the variable, "We don't need to know the variable".

  • Hi Max. I intended to say the latter case. Actually, whether it is known or not, the problem will be solved.
    – Omid Reza Abbasi
    Oct 3, 2016 at 13:53
  • Then use either of the alternatives, depending on the "voice" of your piece (ie how personal or impersonal it is). Oct 3, 2016 at 13:55
  • 1
    Also, you can use need not or its contracted form needn't, as explained here. "The variable needn't be known." I think this phrasing is a bit more common in British English, but I've seen and used the construction myself as an American English speaker.
    – cbh
    Oct 5, 2016 at 16:07

Your sentence is wrong, but not far from the grammatically correct version: "This variable need not be known."

This corrected sentence says exactly what you mean (i.e. "This variable doesn't need to be known."). The corrected sentence is NOT saying, "This variable must not be known."

The answer here goes into deeper explanation: https://english.stackexchange.com/a/29413


It may be grammatically correct, but it is probably not what is intended. Presumably, what is meant is, The value of this variable does not need to be known (it is difficult—but not impossible—to know a variable), although there are other less awkward ways of saying this.

When I first read the sentence, I thought it meant something like it is important that we not know what this variable is, similar to a much-needed gap in the literature (google the latter).

In this case, there is likely no difference between BrE and NAE.

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