Walden or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau, 1850.

To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea. Yet not a few are greedy after this gossip. There was such a rush, as I hear, the other day at one of the offices to learn the foreign news by the last arrival, that several large squares of plate glass belonging to the establishment were broken by the pressure-news which I seriously think a ready wit might write a twelve-month, or twelve years, beforehand with sufficient accuracy. As for Spain, for instance, if you know how to throw in Don Carlos and the Infanta, and Don Pedro and Seville and Granada, from time to time in the right proportions - they may have changed the names a little since I saw the papers - and serve up a bull-fight when other entertainments fail, it will be true to the letter, and give us as good an idea of the exact state or ruin of things in Spain as the most succinct and lucid reports under this head in newspapers: and as for England, almost the last significant scrap of news from that quarter was the revolution of 1649; and if you have learned the history of her crops for an average year, you never need attend to that thing again, unless your speculations are of a merely pecuniary character. If one may judge who rarely looks into the newspapers, nothing new does ever happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted.

The end of the quote

My questions are:

1. How I'll know when to use "need" like modal like here "you never need attend to that thing again"?

2. Is there some reason why Grammarly create red line beneath "need" like it fails and suggested 'to need'?


1 Answer 1


Need is sometimes referred to as a semi-modal. It seems to be on the way from being a full modal (like should) to being a non-modal auxiliary like want.

So expressions like "You need not go" and "Need I go?" are a bit old-fashioned now. Some people, particularly older people, say them naturally; but many people would say "You don't need to go" and "Do I need to go?"

So an alternative to "You never need to" is "You don't ever need to".

I guess that Grammarly rejects it because it hasn't been told that need can be used modally, but I don't know for sure.

  • What about the rule on page 126 How English works by Michael Swan and Catherine Walter: Need can sometimes be used like a modal verb, (questions and negatives without do), especially to say what is (not) necessary at the time of speaking.
    – b2ok
    May 8, 2019 at 16:52
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    Another alternative to "You never need to [verb]" is "You need never [verb]". But whereas I'm quite sure [verb] there is an "infinitive", I don't have any idea what principle governs the fact that with OP's cited never need sequence, the infinitive marker in never need to attend is OPTIONAL, but we can't include it in need never attend. Any idea what's going on there? May 8, 2019 at 16:52
  • @FumbleFingers interesting! Is there any importance ease of pronunciation or musicality of the language?
    – b2ok
    May 8, 2019 at 17:05
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    @b2ok: I don't think prosody (pronunciation / musicality) is relevant to whether we allow a "semi-modal" verb such as need (or indeed, more standard "helper" verbs like be, have) to come between never and the "primary" verb (attend, in this case). But the bottom line on that point seems to be that we (increasingly?) prefer to have never immediately adjacent to the primary verb. So I never could hurt you sounds at least dated and/or poetic compared to I could never hurt you... May 8, 2019 at 17:51
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    ...but thinking about it some more, I must admit that I never could stand him sounds far more likely than I could never stand him. And there's no question that I never did like him is the only tolerable sequence today (but I suspect Shakespeare might have been okay with I did never like him). May 8, 2019 at 17:55

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