I heard "a question needs raising" from a student of mine who is very fond of picking set phrases from manuals and it sounded weird to me. I would have used "A question needs to be raised"

I use the form "need + ing" when an existing thing needs something done to it, like "the house needs cleaning". But I would never say "a new house needs building". If it's the creation of something that is needed I would use the passive infinitive: "a new house needs to be built"

Although a question can exist on people's minds before being asked, I still feel the raising of a question is more like the building of the house and wants the to be asked form.

I've found nothing about this in Swan's Practical English Usage, so I raise the questions to you:

Is there really a difference between the need + ing and the passive infinitive forms? Is "a question needs raising idiomatic"?

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? “need doing” vs. “need to do” Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:13
  • Not really. I already knew that "my house needs cleaning" is equivalent to "...needs to be cleaned", as I said in my question. What I asked was if the ing form is possible when the thing that needs something done to it is not pre-existent to this doing, as in "a house needs building" or "the question that needs raising". Same goes for the rest of answers, thank you. But since no one mentions this difference I'll assume I was wrong and both forms are equally acceptable in these cases too
    – Carolus
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 23:49
  • Whether or not "the thing that needs something done to it is not pre-existent to this doing" is irrelevant to the syntax here. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


In UK speech, 'concealed passive' statements like 'a question needs raising' are quite normal, if a little informal and conversational. They are often found in UK regional speech; I have a Yorkshire friend who does it a lot, e.g. 'my car needs [or wants] washing'. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, the Mad Hatter says “Your hair wants cutting” to Alice.

Concealed passives are only found after three verbs, need, want, and require.

  • 1
    In some regional speech, it would even be "a question needs raised". Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:01
  • That's the Central Pennsylvania dialect usage typified by This car needs washed. Which sounds terrible to most native Anglophones. But note this comment pointing out that when the subject of that construction isn't the same as the object that needs to be [verbed], it's not quite the same. So there's no real problem with You need your head examined (but Your head needs examined is equally awful! :) Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:21
  • I'd be interested to know whether Central Pennsylvanians find That question needs asked or Your head needs examined acceptable. I suspect they only use the non-standard syntax in certain well-established contexts like the car needing [to be] washed. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:24
  • I disagree that many Americans would see it as a mistake. We also use that idiom though perhaps not as frequently.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 14:44
  • Especially things like: That question needs answering. These issues need resolving. Perfectly good American English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 15:16

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