I've been reading the book, "life of pi" and I saw the sentence, "What need did I have to go to Portugal?" in the book.

I don't understand that "what need" part... at the moment I just assume that it means like "why did I have to go to Portugal?" or "What need did make me go to Portugal?"

What does that sentence mean exactly? and is that grammatically correct and used normally?


You can say "I had a need to go Portugal", using "need" as a noun instead of a verb.

In question form this could become "What need did I have to go to Portugal?" In this form it is a rhetorical question. The implied answer is "I had no need". Using rhetorical questions makes the writing more engaging.

So this rhetorical question implies that there was no reason to go to Portugal. There must be some further context in the book, in which the narrator is describing their thoughts and feelings. It is a normal sentence in a book but would be odd to say something like this in normal conversation.

  • Thank you! :) now i understand
    – Hailey08
    May 5 '19 at 16:28

It's grammatically correct, and it's normal usage in Pi's literary style.

Is "have to" the confusing part? The structure is not "What need did (I have to go to Portugal)?", but "What need (did I have) (to go to Portugal)?". "What need did I have?" means "What reason did I have?". "to go to Portugal" is an infinitive clause telling what action the need is for.

"Did I have any need to go to Portugal?" is a very similar yes-or-no question.

(Does Pi ever actually go to Portugal? I forget.)

  • Thanks! I did actually think that the structure was "What need did (I have to go to Portugal)" and that's why i was so confused. Now i understand! Thank you :) Oh, and that sentence is from the "Author's Note" part so Portugal has nothing to do with Pi :)
    – Hailey08
    May 5 '19 at 16:27

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