*The brown shirt 'wants washing'.

  1. has to wash
  2. is in need of a wash
  3. requires a wash
  4. no improvement.

This is my exam question. In provisional answer key the answer has given 3. But what about options no. 2 & 4?

Please explain...

  • I think 2 and 4 would be fine. I also think I'd probably say, "The brown shirt needs to be washed."
    – J.R.
    Jan 28, 2018 at 10:07
  • I think wants washing is OK in certain dialects, but it sounds a little odd to this US English speaker. (Yet other dialects use "wants washed", believe it or not!)
    – stangdon
    Jan 28, 2018 at 13:44
  • 2
    I'm surprised so many people are saying that "wants washing" is incorrect or invalid. It may be more British than American, but the usage sounds normal (albeit quaint) to this American. @user3169 - Check your dictionaries. American Heritage says: want (v.) To be in need of; require : "Your hair wants cutting," said the Hatter (L. Carroll, 1866). Oxford says: (of a thing) require to be attended to in a specified way : The wheel wants greasing. And Wiktionary says: To be in need of; to require (something). [from 15th c.] : The mowing-machine always wanted oiling. (V. Woolf, 1922)
    – J.R.
    Jan 29, 2018 at 2:56
  • @J.R. I would say it is mostly British, at least in modern usage.
    – user3169
    Jan 29, 2018 at 7:56
  • 1
    @user3169 - Indeed, some dictionaries tag it as "chiefly British," and I'd be unlikely to say it in everyday speech. But it still bothers me that an ELL answer to this question dishes out such erroneous advice as, "A shirt cannot ‘want’ anything, because it has no feelings." Our learners deserve better than that. Personification is quite a normal literary device in English.
    – J.R.
    Jan 29, 2018 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


The fact of the matter is that several of the answers provided are correct, so it's impossible to explain why the test answers key indicates that only one is correct (and it's not the one that is currently the most widespread one, according to the ngrams).

The reason for not being able to make hands or tails of the author's reasoning is that the author of the testbook apparently uses his own version of English (a mild way of putting it)—details below. This version of English is gravely out of alignment with the mainstream English-speaking countries. So I doubt anyone here will be able to help the OP with the reasoning behind this book—this is not a logic that would be valid for mainstream English. The testbook is bound to be riddled with errors—errors in how the tests are put together, since basically almost of all the provided sentences are correct, but the test logic requires the user to consider almost all of them as incorrect; so this is an error in the test, and if there is one such error (and given that what I've seen from the book introduction is written in extremely clumsy English), there will be more errors and "correct answers" that cannot be explained.

Details about the book

This test is taken from a book called "Topic-wise Latest 43 Solved Papers", which already sounds fishy. The description contains phrases like "papers from 2010 to 2017 which have been provided topic-wise along with detailed solutions." This is not correct English as used by native speakers. If you google "provided topic-wise", you get 443 results, mostly of this same Indian book. If you google for the correct English phrase "arranged topically", you get 177 thousand results—and also 346 thousand results for "arranged by topic".

The book description further states, "Aspirants will come to know about the pattern and toughness of the questions asked in the examination. In the end, this book will make the aspirants competent enough to crack the uncertainty of success in the Entrance Examination."

OP, I guess you'll just have to get cracking at the uncertainty, because the author of your testbook has their own version of English.

It is a sad fact that incompetent teachers of English write books, too.

I sincerely sympathize.

You'd have to really just study up on the thought process of this particular author. If it is possible, try to ask your teacher or school/college to pick a different exam book, or team up with TOEFL, or something.

The specific question about the shirt has been asked before on wordreference, and, per native speakers who have answered it there, the "title phrasing" (thus, answer 4) and answers 2 and 3 are correct. It is also proven by ngrams of these phrases.

  • OMG, I have actually read the next paragraph of the description, and the book prides itself on "Errorless Solutions" (capitalization not mine). And here, too, they should have really gone with "inerrant." What a mess!
    – user68912
    Jan 28, 2018 at 10:46
  • +1 for correctly pointing out that three of the four options are correct. The OP seems to have a better grasp of English than the authors of the book.
    – J.R.
    Jan 29, 2018 at 3:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .