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What’s the difference in meaning between these two?

  • Did you find all the things you needed?
  • Did you find all the things you need?
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    Simple. The second refers to things you need now, the first to things you needed for something you were doing and have now finished. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 13:10
  • Could we say:If past tense “needed” is for “subjunctive” implication, using past tense “needed” rather than “need” ? Has nothing to do with you need now or you needed in the past.
    – user413787
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 13:22
  • Can you give an example of the 'subjunctive' use you have in mind? I can't think of one. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 13:30
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    The second must refer to an immediate (not meaning 'You've got seconds to live if you haven't found them), ongoing set of needs. The first may be completely synonymous or it may be used to refer to needs quite some time ago that may or may not have been addressed. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 14:21
  • If it's a question by a teacher of English as a 2nd/3rd language, the expected answer is (1). Else, both are correct in their respective situations.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 0:12

2 Answers 2

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The obvious difference is that the first is about the past needs, while the second is about the present needs. Neither of them, however, specifies the nature of the needs, and depending on what that nature is understood to be, the two sentences could be, for most ends and purposes, interchangeable. In particular, the first one may be interpreted as

Did you find all the things you needed to find?

while the second one may be interpreted as

Did you find all the things you need to use?

So interpreted, the sentences can be about the very same things: the things that one needed to find then, in the past, in order to use them now or in the future.

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Interesting. As the two words which differ in the above sentences are simply post tense versus present tense I can agree with the first comment above.

From a practical standpoint I can see how the past tense version might annoy a customer if asked during checkout at a store... seeing as how they have not technically obtained the items they need yet and are from their perspective still in the process of obtaining them. Using the present tense, “need,” also implies a potential remaining need, and the desire to provide additional customer service at checkout. Which people like. Generally.

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