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When I studied English at school (in Italy, more than 35 years ago), we were taught a rule according to which one should say, e. g., "He needn't (need not) say", but NOT "He doesn't need to say".

If I'm not mistaken, it was explained to us that the rule holds good with the following limitations:

1) only in the negative form: thus, "He needn't say", but "He needs to say", and "Does he need to say?";

2) only in the present tense: thus, "He needn't say", but "He didn't (won't, wouldn't, etc.) need to say";

3) only when an infinitive follows: thus, "He needn't see a doctor", but "He doesn't need a doctor".

But, if I google "doesn't need to", I find 125,000,000 occurrences.

I was wondering: does the rule hold good more for British than for American English?

Also, perhaps it isn't an absolute rule, and both constructions ("He needn't say" and "He doesn't need to say") are possible.

Is the rule at least a good description of the circumstances when we CAN (but needn't necessarily) use this construction?

Thank you very much, for this and the other answers.

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    "Is the rule at least a good description of the circumstances when we CAN (but needn't necessarily) use this construction?" - Exactly. Modal need and dare are declining in use, and in the US you're unlikely to encounter either outside of pretty formal dialects; but they're neither obligatory nor particularly remarkable. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 5 '16 at 1:33
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    Welcome to ELL! There's no need to mention the other question in your new one. If you wanted to say something about that question, usually you would comment under that question. You can always comment under your own questions and at 50 reputation you'll be able to comment anywhere. – ColleenV parted ways Aug 5 '16 at 12:27
  • books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 5 '16 at 13:14
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I think the use of "needn't to say" is wrong.

If you use "need" as a modal verb, the correct form is "need not say" or "needn't say".

If you use "need" as a transitive verb, " He doesn't need to say" is correct.

In Oxford Dictionary of English ( Mac version),need as a modal verb is its second definition, only used in negative sentences and questions.

  • "needn't to say" is wrong, and always has been. – TonyK Aug 7 '16 at 16:41
  • @TonyK Do you have a source to confirm that? – Dog Lover Aug 8 '16 at 0:03
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    @TonyK Thanks for your comment. I have modifieds my answer. – Mandy Aug 8 '16 at 1:38
  • Now it's even more confusing! Nobody has asked about "needn't to say", or claimed that it is correct. Why do you mention it at all? – TonyK Aug 8 '16 at 7:12
  • @ Mandy: "needn't to say" is wrong: a useful remark, thanks. § But now I'm puzzled: according to the Oxford dictionary, the modal verb construction is also possible in questions: is that true? Can we say "Need he go?", "Needn't he go?", etc.? – Bob's bosom friend Aug 8 '16 at 17:40
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Also, perhaps it isn't an absolute rule, and both constructions ("He needn't say" and "He doesn't need to say") are possible.

This is correct.

Is the rule at least a good description of the circumstances when we CAN (but needn't necessarily) use this construction?

And this is correct as well.

My impression is that "doesn't need to" is a lot more common than "needn't" in American English. But "needn't" isn't so rare that it looks weird - I just now noticed that you used it in the above quote, and it seemed completely natural.

I think "needn't" is less rare in British English, but it still might not be as common as "doesn't need to".

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As a native American English speaker, I agree that the rule and the limitations look grammatically accurate.

Practically speaking, I almost never hear people say "needn't" in everyday life. Most people would say "doesn't need to."

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    Welcome to ELL and thanks for contributing! This is really not an answer, though, but a comment on another answer. We hope you'll answer other questions. (By the way, this site in not for NAmE speakers only, and "needn't" is more frequently heard outside of the U.S.) – P. E. Dant Aug 8 '16 at 0:58

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