Update: (Originally this was a comment, but I thought it was worth sharing here at the top.)

In the original question, I asked if there was a polite, socially-acceptable way to ask an Indian co-worker not to use the phrase "do the needful", as I didn't care for it.

In the years since I asked this question I've asked many people about the phrase. To the Indians I've asked in-person, it's not rude in any way. To Americans I've asked it varies anywhere from "I don't like it, but I don't mind it" to "It's very rude and makes me angry when I see it".

Through a long series of edits the question morphed and I wasn’t able to delete it because it had upvoted answers. The question, as it stands now, has no other answer.

I guess, though, if you're non-Indian and you find it rude, or if you're Indian and you've never realized someone might find it rude, this post may still have merit. Hopefully it does. It certainly has gotten a lot of views. Best wishes, folks.

End Update. See below for what's left of the actual question.

"Do the needful."

It's a phrase that I've only seen used in email, and I find it . . . presumptuous (maybe even rude). Regardless of prefacing with "please", one is commanding rather than asking for assistance.

I've only seen it used by those of Indian origin, so I've simply not mentioned it at all rather than worry about any cross-cultural offense that may come of bringing it up.

But still, I don't understand why it's used. Why not request rather than make two statements, one factual, one imperative?

For example, why would one use:

  1. I'm told you have Jane's email address. Please do the needful.

instead of,

  1. Would you send me Jane's email address?
  • 2
    You might mention that you've just found this Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_the_needful. :) Here is our ELL question that introduced me to that page: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/17278/…. Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 21:15
  • 3
    re: "the question morphed and I wasn’t able to delete it" -- I encountered this phrase for the first time today and initially found it a mix of ungrammatical and presumptuous. I am glad this question was not deleted because it gave me (as an American English speaker) much-needed context for what I had read. Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 2:00

9 Answers 9


Do the needful is Indian English, which has been covered on ELU.

If you're only interacting with other speakers of Indian English then feel free to use it, but avoid it in any other contexts (most Americans and Brits will think it's quaint/uneducated).

In general, the "standard" form is do what[ever] is necessary, but in OP's specific context most likely nothing like that would be used anyway. If you've just asked for an email address, it goes without saying that you want the other person to do whatever is necessary to give you that information.

I may be wrong, but I have the impression that for many Indian English speakers, "Please do the needful" carries a subtext of "This problem is too complex for me to understand or resolve myself, but I have complete faith that you will be able to deal with it, because you are very skilled in such matters"

As I said, Brits and Americans wouldn't normally use any equivalent for such a trivial problem as finding someone's email address. But if the request was for something more challenging (and crucially, if it was from a manager to a more junior worker), "Do what[ever] [you think] is necessary [to solve this problem]" might be perfectly normal. The implication there is that the manager is authorising the junior to do things he might otherwise not be "permitted" to do (in effect, the junior is being temporarily "promoted" for the duration of the problem-solving).

In that context, it should be clear that (to Americans or Brits, at least) any such phrase would probably be considered offensive/cheeky if addressed to an equal in the workplace (if the person asking isn't senior enough to confer temporary authority on you, they shouldn't be speaking to you that way).

  • 2
    @Gabriel: If you're not already familiar with Indian English, why on earth would you want to learn when to use such an expression? Anyway, obviously I didn't explain my "impression" about the IE subtext very well. I think it would be an extremely bad idea to say that to your boss - what I meant was the office junior might feel flattered if his boss told/asked him to "do the needful". By association, he might therefore accept it from an "equal". I don't think anyone (IE or not) would be happy to hear it from a junior. Also, I'm sure it's not a "translation" - just a Raj hangover. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 12:51
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    Actually, I'm happy to have learned when an Indian english speaker would find it appropriate to use as a mechanism for learning how I'm being thought of. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 14:06
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    This is probably why when "do the needful" crops up in SE questions, as it does occasionally, users of Standard English might bridle a bit. The question is not merely not addressed to an equal, but addressed by someone who is asking for a solution to someone who is better-equipped to provide it. Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 21:32
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    "If you're not already familiar with Indian English, why on earth would you want to learn when to use such an expression?" For the same reason someone working in a US-dominated environment may want to learn to use AmE idiom in order to more clearly communicate with their colleagues? Why would someone not want to learn the idiom employed by their working environment? When I worked with Indian colleagues for a while, I did my best to pick up on the use of things like as per you request, do the needful, thrice and the idiosyncratic InE usage of until.
    – oerkelens
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 8:05
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    @oerkelens: My understanding is that Indian English has relatively low status, even in India. The syntactic differences that commonly occur don't normally present any problem with comprehension for native Anglophones, but they are noticeable. If an Indian (or any other nationality, come to that) doesn't already speak "standard" English, I don't think they'd normally want to deliberately learn IE in contexts where they've no obvious way of knowing which elements are peculiar to that "dialect". Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:12

These are not excerpts but complete examples:

"My webserver is not working customers can not complete tasks. Please do the needful"
"The generated report is incorrect, please do the needful."
"We can not access our email. Some computer tasks work but our other office has not. Please do the needful."

To directly answer the OP's question, it is exceptionally rude. It is presumptuous in telling rather than asking, and carries a condescending tone. "My time is more valuable than yours. I'm so high above this task, I won't bother explaining it. Just do the needful!" Early on I considered it no less abrasive than than seeing "ASAP" in the subject line. Today I just shake my head, roll my eyes, and move to the next email.

Root Problem: What really exacerbates this, per the OP's example: usually one is lacking any (coherent) problem description, context, steps to reproduce, solutions already tried, or desired outcome/end-goal. There are never clearly defined action items and no question asked! If I don't know what the needful is, I probably won't do it. This is what I would explain to your friend.

for many Indian English speakers, "Please do the needful" carries a subtext of "This problem is too complex for me to understand or resolve myself, but I have complete faith that you will be able to deal with it, because you are very skilled in such matters"

@FumbleFingers nails it! That's what we presume was intended; actually this is an overly formal conclusion sentence, as written. Unfortunately, without surrounding details this can easily be re-interpreted as "I'm too ignorant to understand, to learn, or to learn to ask in English." In IT, and Professional Services Support, I have often seen this from customers. I've even received it as the answer to my follow-up questions, or in response to support requests I've opened. I apologize to the OP if this response seems harsh but it is a blunt honest answer to the question asked.


An 'IE' speaker here, and I actually made an account just to share my views about this topic.

Over the 2 past years, I have worked at a multinational audit firm and also a reputed research institution in India where I have seen common use of the phrase "Please do the needful". It is usually a good closing sentence after explanation of the context has been given in the rest of the mail, and is honestly just a polite request. I was genuinely surprised to find that people seemed to have a problem with the phrase and that it is labelled as an 'Indian-English' term. Initially I thought that there might be something wrong with the word 'needful', but when I looked it up, I got the usual meaning 'necessary/requisite'. There are no grammatical errors with the phrase in question, and really, no indication of arrogance at all! I see people suggesting the usage of "Please do what is necessary", and I don't see any difference between the two phrases. So is the problem with the word 'needful'? Is it not used often enough by English language speakers abroad? Also, if the same was used as part of a question like "Could you please do the needful?", would it still seem rude/commanding to you? In business emails, people try to be as concise as possible, no one has time to write elaborately worded emails or read them; succinct responses are appreciated, and this is probably the most succinct way to communicate the thought! So I quote R Clews here, "If it isn't 'broken', why try and 'fix' it?". Different doesn't always mean wrong does it?

To answer your question, if you find the phrase 'rude', then you can be straightforward and tell them that it isn't a phrase you are comfortable/familiar with, and would prefer an alternate phrase (although such a request could possibly make you seem arrogant/rude depending on how you phrase it). There's no real reason for your friend to be offended, it is certainly a commonly used phrase, but not something that an Indian would be offended about if they are requested not to use it because the other person does not appreciate it. But I still do not understand why its usage seems to be such an issue.

  • 7
    First, welcome to StackExchange! There's no difference in rudeness between "necessary" and "needful", it's just a more-natural phrasing for us Yankees. It boils down to this: You're giving a command. "IE" usage of it treats it as though you've simply wrapped up a discussion, but factually you're giving a command. "Go do as I've instructed." In the original example, instead of saying "I need Jane's email address. Do the needful." We would say "Would you send me Jane's email?" One is a command, the other is a request. That's the difference that's lost in translation. Commented May 20, 2015 at 18:14
  • I'm curious. How'd you find the question if you didn't have/run into the issue? Commented May 20, 2015 at 18:16
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    I'm a 50-year native U.S. speaker, and I come at this phrase for correctness in common English speech vs. liking/disliking how it makes me feel. If I dislike it, it is only because I disagree with the assertion that, "there are no grammatical errors with the phrase in question." A breakdown (from American listener's POV): "Do" -- do what? "The" -- OK, the ... a noun is coming. "Needful" ... wait, not only is that an uncommon word today in any usage, but that's not even a noun (which "the" can precede). ✔Please do the dishes. ✔Do "The Twist." ✔Do the homework, son! ✖Do the needful = incorrect.
    – wiigame
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 8:03
  • 1
    @wiigame - I agree this particular phrase doesn't quite parse, but consider this related example: "fix the broken". It also follows the verb-article-adjective form, and it kind of works as a motto, though it still expects a noun (like "things") to follow. I think the idiomatic awkwardness here has a lot to do with the word "do", but I'm not expert enough to analyze this further. Commented Mar 28, 2021 at 1:56
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    I believe @wiigame is right with the gut feel of "that's wrong" because "needful" is an adjective, which is applied to a noun. In common american vernacular, this phrase simply feels incomplete. It would perhaps be "Do the needful thing(s)." It feels potentially rude to me because it's a command and because it's ambiguously inclusive. It is telling you to do an unknown number of things. It could instead be said "Please do whatever you can" which is a request and limits the request to only what the addressee can accomplish. Commented Aug 13, 2021 at 19:09

It was a common saying in the times of British colonization in India. It has since become antiquated outside of India, but is still in use amongst English speaking Indians. I work for a large worldwide tech company and it is very common with our India counterparts.

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    This has already been stated in the other answers.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 13:34
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    @Chenmunka: Literally no other answer says this. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 20:27

I'm a QA Manager, and I just used this phrase after signing off on a build. QA has signed off and a few other things need to be done and I have no idea what that list of things is. I use "Please do the needful" instead of "Please merge, build and deploy the code" as I'm not sure what all needs to be done, nor do I need to know.

If I'm specific and wrong (we don't deploy till this evening or I miss getting the release notes together) then at best I'll get questions about my mistakes that lengthen the process or a step is missed or done too early which causes actual problems.

"DO the needful" abstracts the "ask" so I don't need to know what actually needs to be done. And to answer the questions about higher ups, I still use this phrase and for the exact same reasons, for asks where I don't know the details of the process, most recently firing a contractor and hiring a new one.

  • Hi, welcome to ELL! Thanks for the answer.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 19:24

"Please do the needful" is a request which we use not only with our Indian English speaking clients, but are using more and more with other customers from around the world. The usual context is with regard to submitting some document, paying an outstanding invoice, or completing some task, or completing some other necessary action. Personally, I would use different phrases for each eventuality, but "Please do the needful" works! And if it isn't 'broken', why try and 'fix' it? The English language is incorporating new words and meanings every day. I therefore think that "Please do the needful* is a very polite, 'workable' and generally acceptable way of asking, or requesting, someone to do the task at hand.

  • 10
    It is accepted by everyone I work with as well. We politely react accordingly (paying an invoice, etc) and say nothing, because to do otherwise would be impolite. Ask a non-Indian that you trust in these matters, and ask them which is more polite (using Garrick's example): "The generated report is incorrect, please do the needful." or "The generated report is incorrect, would you look into it?" When they tell you it's the latter, perhaps you'll believe that while it is intended by Indian speakers to be polite (and is to you), it is not to others. Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 15:21

I havef encountered this phrase from time to time, and I never found it offensive. I am a speaker of US English, with no cultural heritage from India. I don't understand why anyone considers this offensive. In some cases it is in my view too vague, leaving it up the the listener to decide just what "the needful" is, and that can lead to misunderstandings.

i hve more often encountered this in fiction, not in dialog but in a character describing his or her own actions. For example in the "Share" series by Nathan Lowell (Quarter Share, Half Share, Full Share, Double Share, Captain's Share, and Owner's Share) the first person narrator and main character on a number of occasions writes "I awoke, got up and did the needful." or something similar, apparently meaning that he excreted. In that usage, I don't find this different from any other euphemism. In the same series, that character sometimes uses the phrase to mean "did some essential task" such as cleaning or cooking a meal.


I think people accept and understands this phrase world wide although, majority I believe would associate it as being commonly used by Indian speakers.. Specifically Indian speakers IN India or who still have a strong connection to their Indian work ethic or practices. I've never heard this spoken by Indians OUTSIDE India specially the ones who've been working on a multinational or cross country businesses.

Personally though, I often interpret it more as "I'm not really sure what to do or how you plan to do it so I'll sound professional here and use 'do the needful' to pass the ball to you."

  • Updating: For what it's worth, I didn't down-vote you. Your answer was anecdotal just like everyone else's and more polite than many. Please don't be discouraged from using StackOverflow because your first post was not well-received. We don't all bite. :-D Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 14:19
  • And don't get discouraged from using Stack Overflow because your first post on a totally different site was not well-received! Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 20:28

Would you ask you boss to "Please do the needful"? Why not? We see this in the IT world and roll ouu eyes when we see it coming from our IE friends. We don't find it offensive, but see i,t at times, as the requester not actually being knowledgeable of the issue. If you wouldn't use the phrase with you supervisors just don't use it.


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