When I need a book, I need it bad. After 25 years in publishing and thousands of books read, piled, sold, and bought, and after 12 years of teaching English grammar, I have seldom read a popular nonfiction author with as much pleasure as I read Anthony Bourdain. Not only do I remember the sheer glee of reading a galley of his breakthrough title, Kitchen Confidential  back in 2000, but I also remember going to the publication party for Bone in the Throat, his first book, a highly enjoyable murder mystery that appeared a full five years earlier in 1995.


So I felt fine saying, "I need to read Bourdain's new book!" Yet when I polled some fans on Facebook, I was hit with more than one response pleading for a moratorium on the usage "need to." Seems like it sticks unpleasantly with some editors, copy editors, and copywriters like a . . . bone in the throat.


Why does "need to" settle so ill? There is no grammatical reason not to use it. "Need" is a verb most often followed by objects: nouns, gerunds, clauses, and infinitive forms. One can need a noun, an object: "I need money!" "I need a hemostat, stat!" "I need a V8!" Or one can need an action: "I need to make money!" "I need to get a seat!" "I need to get out of here!" And when an action is called for, the infinitive form of the verb is called for. When I've taught English to speakers of other languages, one important grammar point to note is that "need" is followed by an infinitive and not an inflected form of the verb: i.e., "I need to calm down" and not "I need calm down."


So why the need to hate "need to"? Turns out that most editors who dislike it do so because "need" loses its urgency, its meaning, its force, when it's used for mundane requests. When a stewardess says, "I need you to return your seat to the upright position," she doesn't really "need" anything. She wants you to do something. She is ordering you to do something. You must do so for safety reasons. You ought to because that person behind you is really, really sick of the tray table constricting her personal space into the size of a small puppy crate. But there's no real need there.


I, on the other hand, do need to get this book. The section on Sandra Lee looks particularly toothsome.

What about you? How do you feel about "need to"? And about Anthony Bourdain?




Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and is currently teaching English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services

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by on ‎06-16-2010 07:00 PM

I don't know Anthony Bourdain.  I guess, then, I don't need to buy his book.  I might wish to buy his book, someday,  but right now,  I just don't feel the need.  The use of the word, 'need', seems to express an urgency...NOW!  Maybe some people don't see books in the same light.   If it's a VW book, one that I don't have....and it's on the bargain shelf..... "I've just got to have this one, come H or high water!"  But, if I cut my finger on one of the pages, I will definitely need a BAND-AID!


I want a BMW, and don't tell me I can't have one!  I know, I know, I don't need one....but who are you to tell me what I want, or what I need?!  So, there!  (can you use a question mark and an exclamation mark in the same sentence?)

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎06-17-2010 12:25 PM

Hi KathyS - ha, well put!

by on ‎06-17-2010 01:16 PM

Ellen, I've never heard of the word, "toothsome", and I worked for dentists!  Ha!  Does it mean something you can sink your teeth into?  Just wondering.

by Sunltcloud on ‎06-17-2010 02:01 PM

Well, I was totally frustrated yesterday. Nothing was working properly. I couldn't sign in, sign out, reply, download..........


What I wanted to say, immediately after I read this blog, was "Yes, yes, yes, I agree. I need you to buy this book for me."


Needless to say, I am a huge Anthony Bourdain fan. I loved Kitchen Confidental. I loved A Cook's Tour. I loved his TV series "No Reservations." It must be the (still) young flirty, daring, "I want to live dangerously" me who adores the bad boy in him. The bad boy who finally grew up. The last scene I remember is a family gathering and feast somewhere in Italy where we get a glimpse of his (new) wife and child.


Today is a much better day than yesterday. I signed on; I am able to reply; I am even able to buy my own Medium Raw, and I just did. It's on my nook. Anthony Bourdain is watching me from the cover. Thanks.

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎06-17-2010 02:15 PM

Ah it is one of my favorite words, with a good set of meanings: particularly apt for this piece ; )




by on ‎06-17-2010 06:53 PM

Thanks, Ellen...I'm never too old to learn a new word!  And when I hear Anne saying one of her, unique-only-to-her, words, it makes me smile.  I guess you share the same forte....Simply delicious! I hope you enjoy your needed book!

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