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I just came across this weird use of "need not" on Twitter:

Madam/sir,
My daughter is stuck in Uk . She has lost her BRP . She is difficult to return back India home [sic]. Please help

In response, India in the UK says:

She need not worry. She should stay where she is. Just tell her to keep herself safe. Please delete your tweet.

Shouldn't it be "she doesn't need to worry" or "she needs to not worry" given that the subject is "she" (singular)? Or is this some kind of grammatical construction I don't know? I believe who wrote it was a native speaker of English and they might be correct. Can someone explain this please?

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    "doesn't need to worry" is the more common way to say this in American English, I don't know about Indian English. But it's what the original means. – Barmar Jun 10 at 14:01
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    "Need not worry" is a known idiom but sounds old-fashioned to me (Midwest USA). – aschepler Jun 10 at 15:14
  • I think "need not worry" is correct here. However, "needs to not worry" may be good advice. – JosephDoggie Jun 10 at 19:29
  • "need not worry" is fine. What is strange is that "She is difficult to return back India home" – PcMan Jun 10 at 20:53
  • @PcMan, I think it's safe to assume that English is not the first language of the original poster of that tweet. – Shaggy Jun 10 at 23:54
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That is fine. Need in that sentence is used as a modal auxiliary and we use the bare infinitive1 after modal auxiliaries. It's called a 'semi-modal' because it can act as both a modal verb (like should, can, might, may) and a normal/lexical verb (as in She doesn't need to worry).

Try replacing the need with another modal auxiliary (for example should):

  • She need not worryshe should not worry

(This is just for comparison and doesn't mean need not and should not are the same. This use of need not mean there's no obligation.)

It behaves the same as other modal auxiliaries and we always use the bare infinitive after them. However, unlike other modal auxiliaries, need is restricted to negatives and interrogatives.


  1. When the base form/infinitive is used without to, it's referred to as ‘bare infinitive’ as in I saw him dance (not *I saw him to dance)
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    I really think that this sentence in the first tweet is wrong: "She is difficult to return back India home". What do you think? – Man_From_India Jun 9 at 16:43
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    @Man_From_India: Yes, that's incorrect but is not what the op is asking about. Our main concern is the ".. need not... " part. :) – Void Jun 9 at 16:45
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    Yes of course. The non natives still hold their non native identity even in a "native" land :-) – Man_From_India Jun 9 at 16:47
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    There's a detailed explanation of the topic on Collins Dictionary Website. – Void Jun 9 at 20:55
  • Please forgive a critical comment, but I read your first paragraph to a friend, and she replied "What? I have a Master's degree in English and I have never heard of any of that stuff!" You see, "modal auxiliaries" and "bare infinitives" and "semi-modals" are simply not how modern American English works. The language is ever-changing and evolving, and the only true test is to have several educated native speakers read or listen, and get their advice on what seems natural to them. – Michael Geary Jun 12 at 22:26
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As Void says, need (at least for some speakers) is a semimodal, and can be used in both of those ways.

But She need not worry has a very different meaning from She needs to not worry.

She need not worry can be paraphrased as "there is no need for her to worry".

Your second sentence means "There is a need for her to not worry", which is different.

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Is this answer redundant? Let's try anyway, since the implied message of the two is interesting.

"She need not" is an older phrasing for "She does not need to", it's phrased to imply not needing to do something. It's popular in sales and advice, partly because it gives the client a feeling similar to getting something for nothing, I think.

"She needs to not" is an active instruction to stop, which has two implications. Using "need" gives a more commanding tone, saying you "need to do this" rather than "should do this". Combined with "to not" I'd see it as implying the person already doing the action they shouldn't or may to start doing it. It's not as bad an explicit "Stop [...]" but some people can react negatively if they don't like the implied behaviour. I find that generally a qualifier gets attached ("When she gets there, she needs to not ...") and/or rephrased to a "better" action ("remain calm" rather than "not worry").

To contrast with a slightly different action:

  • "She need not panic" will hopefully be interpreted as "there's nothing you'll need to panic about".
  • "She needs to not panic" might be interpreted as "You're panicking and need to stop".

Perhaps you've heard an advert use the words "You need not delay"? Sneaky, right? If they say

You should buy this now!

they'd sound unpleasant and you might not be as accepting of their claims. But if they instead phrase it to something commanding, like

You need not delay, our operators are standing by to take your order.

then they're implying that you have no reason to not buy it immediately, without actually telling you that you should.

Another one might be changing "You don't need to worry about" to "You need not worry", as a way to convince you that there isn't something you definitely should worry about. This kind of phrasing isn't always reason to be suspicious, but it is certainly understandable why a lot of stereotype dodgy salesmen characters use it while trying to sell their miracle product, before disappearing in the next scene.

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"She need not worry", or "she needn't worry", is indeed right.

Needn't functions as a modal verb in that sentence (and when it's a modal verb, it doesn't take on -s in third person singular). I'm not sure about the usage though, it seems to only be common in some English-speaking countries, not all (I think a Brit is more likely to say this than an American).

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Actually 'need not worry' means, she does not need the feeling 'worry', but 'need to not worry' means, she need to stop feel 'worry'.

Basically

  • Need not worry → Not necessary feeling
  • Need not to worry → Not necessary to feel (feeling as action)
  • Need to not worry → Necessary to stop feeling (feeling as action)

The main point is the difference of usage between verbs and nouns with 'need'.

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    hmm, is "Need not to worry" correct? Could you provide an example use? – ikegami Jun 11 at 11:03
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    @ikegami: "she need not to worry" definitely sounds wrong to my ear. (Canadian English speaker). I can't think of any surrounding context that would make "need not to worry" work in a sentence, and I'm pretty sure it's not grammatical in this context. – Peter Cordes Jun 12 at 1:30
  • @PeterCordes As a native speaker of American English, I agree. I can't think of any case where that would work. Interestingly, there is a similar phrase that may not be grammatically "correct" but is in common usage today, which makes it correct: "Not to worry, I will take care of that for you." This may be more commonly phrased "Don't worry, I will take care of that for you." But either one would be fine in casual usage. – Michael Geary Jun 12 at 22:48
  • Oh, that discussion brought some complications. Firstly, I have to tell that I'm not a native speaker. Also I've learned English with speaking / chatting with non-native speakers. Grammatically I agree with you there's no usage but I run into daily chats sometimes and I think its meaning is this. – rch 2 days ago

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