I have been reading a British newspaper. On the newspaper, a counsellor advises a woman who have risked her life and tried dangerous things and is now upset. So, amongst many other things, councellor says to her:

"You seem to need danger and thrills in your life."

Using "need" this way sounded different to me. I know what she means because I know the subject, but if I had not, I might have been mislead, because it sounds as if the counsellor recommends her to take risks and dangers and thrills, which would have been completely the opposite of what she would have meant.

Maybe counsellor wants to make humour by using the "need" this way but I have never seen it used this way.

So, my question: Can we use "need" this way in formal English or should we avoid using it this way in order to remove ambiguity?

Thank you.

Note: If you want to see the whole text, that includes the sentence, it is at the Sun newspaper web site at https://www.thesun.co.uk/dear-deidre/7931802/threesome-strangers-pregnant-punishment-for-cheating/

2 Answers 2


"Need", in this context, has its usual meaning. The key here is the use of "seem". This makes it Deirdre's opinion about the woman's state of mind (what she needs) and not a statement of fact. For example:

Hello, can I help you? You seem to be lost.

I don't know if the person is actually lost, but that seems to be my perception of their state of mind. I could alternately ask:

Hello, are you lost? You seem to need a guide.

Again, I don't know if they think they need a guide. That's just my interpretation of the situation.

In the same way Deirde is interpreting the woman's personality, particularly her desires and motivations, while at the same time offering useful advice.

Because the sentence includes "seem", there's no way this would be interpreted as a recommendation. If Deirde meant to give her advice, she would have written it differently:

You need to ask yourself if you're ready to be a mum.

Side note: Be aware that Deirdre Sanders is apparently not a licensed therapist or professional counselor. Moreover The Sun is well known as a tabloid newspaper, meaning that it tends to focus on the sensational and provocative, and many of its stories may not be entirely true. People do seem to find her advice useful and entertaining, as she's been doing this for over 30 years, but her editors seem to deliberately select letters by their lurid subject matter, more than their general applicability.

Which is to say, don't take anything written in this column (or, indeed, the entire publication) too seriously.


You are right that the concept of "need" could refer either to a healthy need or a pathological need (like an addiction). Common sense tells me that "Dear Diedre" means the latter, and is advising against risk-taking.

But if you read her answer with the other meaning in mind, it does sound a little humorous, as if Diedre's advice is going to be to take up skydiving and swimming with sharks. I guess the answer could have been written with less ambiguity, but to answer your question, "need" is often used by regular people (not just therapists) to mean an unhealthy desire for something that isn't good for you. In context, Diedre's answer sounds reasonable to me.

You must log in to answer this question.

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