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I want to ask the difference between "need to do" and "need to be doing." Here is an example"

We need to do this as soon as possible.

and:

We need to be doing this as soon as possible.

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  • The difference is that the second example is continuous. It has nothing to do with "need to", for example the same distinction applies to "We will do this" and "We will be doing this". Note that in Indian English, the continuous present is used for a state as well as an action, for example "are you having a pencil?" whereas in BrE it would be "Do you have a pencil?" Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 13:44

2 Answers 2

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Both are correct and idiomatic but they mean different things, and the first is going to be used much more often.

We need to do this as soon as possible.

Means that there is something to be do - tidying before the mother-in-law arrives, fixing the website, arranging a loan, whatever - which needs to be done as soon as possible.

We need to be doing this as soon as possible.

Means that we need to start doing something as soon as possible and then continue doing it. I can only think of examples from the business world: for example, you might need to be changing your accounting practices to meet new legislation, or you might need to be changing the way you sell cars to make head office happy.

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The first sentence is grammatically correct and idiomatic. The meaning is that there is a particular task that must be done, and we must be do it soon.

The second sentence is grammatically correct, however it is not idiomatic. We generally use continuous tenses to talk about something that is happens repeatedly or continuously before, during and after some other event. Your sentence does not specify any other event.

Consider a surprise birthday party where everybody will hide somewhere in the birthday girl's house, and then they will all pop out just after she gets home. The organizer would say:

We need to be hiding when she arrives

In this sentence, the event that must be specified for the continuous tense is the arrival of the birthday girl. So, everybody has to hide before she arrives, and they are hiding (present continuous) at the moment that she arrives.

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