Is it grammatically correct to say "my dog needs walking"? Why/why not?

A student of mine produced the following phrase: 'My dog needs walking' which seemed wrong to me from the point of view of grammar. I doubt that one could actually use it with animate objects. Am I right in thinking so?

  • 4
    Which is the inanimate object, your student or the dog? – user6951 Feb 15 '15 at 19:06
  • 1
    reminds me of Monty Python… "Just taking the dog for a drag" ;) – gone fishin' again. Feb 15 '15 at 19:18
  • 1
    "The lawn needs mowing", where such sentences can be considered to be using a concealed passive construction (according to the 2002 reference grammar CGEL), and note that it would have a passive interpretation type of meaning that would be similar to that in "the lawn needs to be mowed" which has the overt passive clause "to be mowed". – F.E. Feb 15 '15 at 19:39
  • In case you don't understand the first two comments, dogs are animate objects. Inanimate means unmoving, not alive, or without volition. Dogs are definitely animate. Even trees could be animate, depending on the situation/definition of choice. – Jason Patterson Feb 16 '15 at 2:12
  • Dogs are lower in the animacy hierarchy, though, than people. – snailplane Feb 17 '15 at 9:33

All the following are fine

My student needs correcting.
My dog needs walking.
My plant needs watering.
My shirt needs cleaning.
My rock needs painting.

Need means requires in these sentences, whether referring to a person, animal, plant, shirt or rock.

The structure corresponds to

needs to be verbed

My student, dog, plant, shirt, rock: each one needs to be loved.

  • Nice point on your comment, I like it!+1 – Lucian Sava Feb 15 '15 at 21:07
  • 4
    "My noun needs to be verbed", "my noun needs verbing"... – user541686 Feb 15 '15 at 21:07
  • 1
    You may find this construction more commonly used in some areas of the US than in others. Not saying it's dialect, but it's somewhat regional. – Brian Hitchcock Feb 16 '15 at 2:40
  • Could be @BrianHitchcock I don't know. But I've heard it all my life, which covers the South, New England, and out west (not California). I guess that My noun wants watering would be a candidate for dialectalness. Or how you feel about that one? – user6951 Feb 16 '15 at 5:22
  • 3
    These are fine, but I also think the O.P. touches on a valid point – some might sound a little less natural than others. My shirt needs cleaning sounds a bit more natural than my student needs correcting, though I wouldn't go so far as to say that latter is wrong. Much like what @Brian hints at, using this construct with what the O.P. calls "animate objects" gives the language an informal, folksy, affectionate feel: my dog needs walking seems to hint at a bond between owner and dog that goes beyond collar and leash in a way that my car needs washing doesn't quite pull off. – J.R. Feb 16 '15 at 9:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.