Can I say "My dog needs walking"?

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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?

Yukatan

Posted 2015-02-15T19:05:00.607

Reputation: 1 196

4Which is the inanimate object, your student or the dog? – None – 2015-02-15T19:06:34.457

1reminds me of Monty Python… "Just taking the dog for a drag" ;) – gone fishin' again. – 2015-02-15T19:18:27.803

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. – 2015-02-15T19:39:54.807

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 – 2015-02-16T02:12:00.717

Dogs are lower in the animacy hierarchy, though, than people. – snailplane – 2015-02-17T09:33:20.370

Answers

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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.

user6951

Posted 2015-02-15T19:05:00.607

Reputation:

Nice point on your comment, I like it!+1 – Lucian Sava – 2015-02-15T21:07:22.263

4"My noun needs to be verbed", "my noun needs verbing"... – user541686 – 2015-02-15T21:07:29.253

1You 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 – 2015-02-16T02:40:45.597

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? – None – 2015-02-16T05:22:24.987

It might depend on whether your noun is a person, a place or a thing. Just kidding! Actually, it becomes a question of relative antiquity, since once upon a time, "want" used to mean what we now mean by "need". The way we now use "want" is like what would once have been called "desire" or "fancy". Instant gratification rules modern times. Want it, need it, gotta have it! – Brian Hitchcock – 2015-02-16T07:25:33.123

3These 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. – 2015-02-16T09:37:02.560

@J.R.If I could, I would choose your answer as the correct one. – Yukatan – 2015-02-16T10:51:56.677