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Would it be wrong (in BrE) to say that when something was done but it wasn't necessary only "needn't have done" is used but it is not used for an action that wasn't done? For example, "I needn't have bought another loaf of bread. We already had one." (I bought it). If I didn't buy a loaf of bread or even if I bought it but it wasn't necessary I can use either "I didn't need to" and " didn't have to". Am I right?

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    You raise an interesting point! If you needn't have [done something], that always implies you did actually do it, even though it wasn't necessary. But saying you didn't need [to do it] (or didn't have to) is "agnostic" as to whether you did it or not (though in context, it'll almost always be obvious whether you did or didn't do it). But note that in spoken contexts, there would often be very heavy stress on didn't need to do it to imply that you actually did do it (where the very heavily stressed alternative have would often be pronounced HAFF). – FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 14:20
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    (That's to say, for most speakers, You needn't have done that and You didn't haff to do that are equivalently unambiguous - you did indeed do it, but it would have been possible for you not to have done it.) – FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 14:25
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    In those two examples, have and need are equivalent & interchangeable. But in in ancient times athletes didn't have / need to take drug tests, they had no choice (they couldn't be tested, because there were no such tests). Whereas winning athletes didn't have / need to work again specifically implies they had a choice (it's a matter of opinion and exact context whether in practice they always chose not to work again after surviving one round of contests). – FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 14:57
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    ...on the other hand, winning athletes needn't have worked again is an an unlikely thing to say, but it carries the strong implication that they invariably did go back into the arena, even if they weren't forced to. – FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 15:00
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    Am I to understand that Michael Vince claims that In ancient times athletes didn't need to take drug tests and Winning athletes didn't have to work again are somehow "incorrect"? If so, all I can say is I think that's rubbish! There can be a slight difference of emphasis depending on the have/need choice. But frankly I doubt even most native speakers would recognise and be able to describe any such differences, so for a non-native speaker it's quite enough to just say they're interchangeable. – FumbleFingers Apr 17 at 15:40

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