1 That sofa needs cleaning again.

2 That sofa needs to be cleaned again.

Which of the above senteces sounds more natural? And, is "to be" always needed in structures like 2, as, for example, in:

2/a You need your head examined.

2/b You need your head to be examined.

  • 1
    1 and 2 sound fine. I think 2/a is "You need [to have/get] your head examined", not "You need your head [to be] examined". So, 2/b sounds strange.
    – user230
    Mar 5, 2013 at 21:14
  • There is a common phrase in US English "You need to have your head examined". It means someone thinks you are being illogical or they really don't believe what you are saying. Its probably best not to say this in a medical context.
    – user485
    Mar 5, 2013 at 23:17

4 Answers 4


Both versions are perfectly grammatical and natural-sounding, but they mean slightly different things. Sort of. If you want them to.

That sofa needs cleaning again.

This means that some attempt needs to be made towards cleaning the sofa. Unless it's your mother saying this to you, the implied end result is not necessarily a perfectly clean sofa. (If it is your mother, then you're usually better off assuming she wants perfect cleanliness, even if all she says is "Hmm, that sofa has been cleaner." But I digress.)

That sofa needs to be cleaned again.

Here, there is at least a slight implication that the desired end result is a clean sofa, not just a cleaner sofa.

Now, keep in mind that these are just-barely-discernible shades of meaning, not outright "use this if and only if you mean..." In practice, the intended meaning is almost always total cleanliness or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Regarding 2a and 2b, both are possible1, but neither is what I'd say in that situation. Better alternatives:

You need to get your head examined.
You need to have your head examined.
Your head needs to be examined.

1 The version without the "to be" starts to sound a bit like the Central Pennsylvania dialect "that car needs washed" type of construction; it sounds awkward, but not necessarily wrong. But then, I live near Philadelphia, so perhaps I'm not the best judge.

  • I'm familiar with "that car needs washed", but it isn't in my idiolect. "You need your head examined" is, so my intuition is that it's not an example of that particular construction.
    – user230
    Mar 6, 2013 at 9:49

Both 1A and 1B are acceptable. I think 1B is preferred. 1A is informal.

2A is correct. 2B is ... well, you could make a case that it's correct, but it's very awkward. You could say, "Your head needs to be examined."


Both 1 and 2 work, but I think 2 flows better. "That sofa needs cleaning again" seems a little awkward. 2/a and 2/b are also both fine, but 2/b is a little wordy and awkward. I would say, "You have to / need to / should get your head examined."


In 1A you are personifying the sofa and in 1B you are stating a comment on the sofa. As said, 1A could be called informal and 1B preferred.

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