As long as he didn't leave spots of ink on the sheets, the Dursleys need never know that he was studying magic by night.

As I understand, 'need' denotes the sense of "To be under the necessity of or the obligation to". I feel 'would' might fit better for the context. As long as he didn't leave spots ink on the sheets, the Dursley would never know that he was studying magic by night.

So, how should we understand the use of 'need' in this context?

-- From Harry Potter.

  • In your context, need roughly meant have to. Dursley never have to know that he was studying magic.
    – Ms.Tamil
    Nov 9, 2018 at 6:06
  • Would it be any easier for you if it said "never need to know"? The implied meaning is, "there is no need to inform them" or "there is no need for them to find out".
    – TimR
    Nov 9, 2018 at 13:31
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo, I think I have no problem to understand the meaning. Maybe, I don't quite understand the logic or conventions. As I understand, Harry is trying hard in order not to let the Dursleys know he was studying magic by night. So, he need to make sure he didn't leave any spots of ink on the sheets, otherwise the Dursleys would find out the truth. That's why I think 'would' probably fit in this sentence and 'need' might not fit semantically. I'm not sure if you could understand me. Anyway ...
    – dan
    Nov 9, 2018 at 13:45
  • @dan: The logic of as long as....need never know can seem a little odd, but if you paraphrase need never know as "will have no cause to know" the meaning might emerge, understanding "cause" broadly to include "compelling reason". They have no reason to demand to be informed, and neither will there be any telltale evidence of his activity.
    – TimR
    Nov 9, 2018 at 14:06
  • 1
    Yes, you have it. There is no need or cause for them to know, and they won't find out if there's no evidence. The first part wouldn't be expressed if you change need never know to "would never know".
    – TimR
    Nov 9, 2018 at 14:51

2 Answers 2


We can use needn't/need never + infinitive/don't need to for absence of necessity felt by the speaker:

We needn't put the heating on yet; it's not cold enough.

We don't need to turn on the light; it's 1 p.m.

You need never be lonely again. I'll always be by your side.

  • Can you help to explain a bit based on the context I quoted?
    – dan
    Nov 9, 2018 at 7:04
  • 1
    @dan the Dursleys don't have to know about him studying magic by night. There is no need for them to know about it. It's not necessary. He just has to make sure there are no spots of ink left. If there are none, the Dursleys will not find out.
    – Enguroo
    Nov 9, 2018 at 7:23
  • I'm not sure why it put this way. I still can not get through the logic. Is there anything different if I put: "As long as he didn't leave spots ink on the sheets, the Dursley would never know that he was studying magic by night."?
    – dan
    Nov 9, 2018 at 7:43
  • @dan are you trying to use "would" to describe a past state or to make a conditional sentence?
    – Enguroo
    Nov 9, 2018 at 7:47
  • I think "as long as" forms a conditional sentence. Is it right? Yes, I tried to make a conditional sentence. But I'm not sure if there is any difference here between a past state and a conditional sentence. Does it really matter?
    – dan
    Nov 9, 2018 at 7:49

It basically means he would "never need to know" Similar to the way you would say "need not"


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