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I always use I see the need, but looking at the COCA corpus, I noticed it contains four sentences using I see a need.

It is my favorite quote that Tatz told me. So whenever I see a need, I must do something to help.

I want to see it implemented within 48 hours. If I see a need, I want to do something about it.

I trust you to follow my instructions, avoid the media, to avoid talking about this with anybody else, and I have no plans to sequester you. But if I see a need to do so at any point, I'll do it."

Well, you don't, of course. But I think you can see that I am a businessman. I see a need, I fulfill that need -- for a price. Your needs are considerably more apparent than you seem to realize. In my head, I see the need was like I see the necessity, so I always preferred using the in the phrase.

Compared, there are 8 sentence in COCA containing I see the need. Some of those sentences are the following ones.

"I see the need for more versus less in Atlanta," Kelly said. He said some new routes could be to western cities not served by AirTran, "And on those routes in particular you'll see fares lower" by as much as 50 percent.

She will eat lamb, duck and raw fish. I eat cows, pigs and chickens. I will put bacon on anything and eat it. She can make a variety of different sauces, while I see the need for only two, brown gravy and cream gravy. I believe that if something is worth eating, it is worth putting cream gravy on.

"By all means make that point explicit in the language of the order, to help the men understand its promulgation is, among other things, a matter of practical necessity." "You've thought a step farther ahead than I did," Marshall admitted. "Put that way, I see the need for what you have asked of me."

I was never very athletic, but it feels good to take a walk after work. I love the yoga; my mom is all bent over, and I see the need to do it. Best of all, the group therapy has allowed us to go deeper into our feelings, and it's improved our relationship.

Is I see a need correct? If it is, what is the difference between I see the need and I see a need?

  • Each context will dictate its proper article; without that, a useful answer is impossible. – P. E. Dant Oct 7 '16 at 5:47
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    All the above sentences refer to "need" as a generic one (whenever I see a need, if I see a need) and don't imply a specific need (the need) so the indefinite article "a" is appropriate. – user5267 Oct 7 '16 at 6:04
  • Chechng with Ngram, "see a need" is an expression that appears to have become sort of idiomatic in recent decades. books.google.com/ngrams/… – user5267 Oct 7 '16 at 6:12
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    @AbsoluteBeginner Does that mean that when talking of a need that is implicit in what being said, I see the need should be more appropriate? – kiamlaluno Oct 7 '16 at 9:48
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    @kiamlaluno - Yes, I think so, it would sound more appropriate and also more "grammatical". "A need" suggest the idea of "any need", not a specific one. Anyway the implied meaning is not always clear, and both usages may fit. – user5267 Oct 7 '16 at 10:37
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The important part here is the difference between the indefinite article and the definitive article.. Think about the difference between these sentences.

There's a car over there.

Here's the car.

In this example, a refers to something without a specific significance, or possibly one of many. Consider finding the car, that's the one you're looking for, that's the one you were talking about or the one you're going to ride in. It's specific, and significant.

In your examples, a need refers to one of many needs that may or may not arise. The need is not specific and it has not been defined in discussion. "If there is a need" means anything could happen that causes the need, and the need may or may not exist. The exact need or factors that cause the need are not known or defined.

With the need, we're being more specific. In I see the need to buy more coffee. the need is clear: it's buying more coffee. The cause of the need is also fairly clear (though implied), because the coffee is probably gone or almost gone.

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In each of the examples for the need, the speaker already knows what the need is. The speaker could give the need a name if he wanted to do so and then talk about that need by name.

On the other hand, notice that all the examples for a need have if in front of them (in the fourth example the if is implied). The if is there because there isn't a need yet. There might be a need later. There might be many needs later. But there isn't a particular need that can be named.

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