“The family wants justice,” he said. “They need to know that they are heard, and they need to know that this type of conduct is wrong and they need to know that this is going to stop.”

I feel the phase "need to know" in this context is peculiar. It sounds like "want to make sure". My understanding to the sentence in bold above is that they want to make sure they keep updated with the status of this event.

So, what's the correct way to understand "They need to know that they are heard" in this context?

The full source.

1 Answer 1


The verb "need" here indicates necessity. It functions to convey a plea or a call for action, more specifically in your cited news piece, in response to the ordeal of the boy in the context of the rampant problem of police brutality in the United States. "They are heard" means "their voice is heard", "people listen to their story/plea"

The sentence can be rephrased in these ways:

The family (of the battered boy) deserve to know that their voice is heard.

It is important that the family know people listen to them. (and the audience at large should make sure of it. Namely, they should listen to the plight of the family)

So the lawyer is urging people to listen to the victim's family and take action to address this issue.

  • how about "They need to know if they are heard"?
    – dan
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 5:30
  • 1
    @dan That, the use of the conditional, sounds strange—as if they need to know if they are speaking loudly enough and being literally heard. Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 7:15
  • 2
    @dan Nothing wrong with that form if you're asking if people can hear you from the loudspeakers during an event. However it changes the meaning entirely from the original since it is no longer idiomatic but literal.
    – Neil
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 8:17
  • 1
    @dan - You seem to be parsing this as: They (need to know) (that they are heard). Think of it instead as: They (need) (to know) (they are heard). I think Eddie’s suggested synonym deserve explains it well – the word “that” can be omitted here without changing the meaning.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 11:01

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