MY column last week on how the helping verb “do” works as an intensifier in English drew the following very interesting and intriguing response from reader Jose Oliveros:
“This is regarding the use of the phrase ‘in need of’in ‘Our school is in need of full-time English teachers’ and ‘Our company is in need of 100 bags of first-class wheat.’ Will not the verb ‘needs’ suffice, as in ‘Our school needs full-time English teachers” and ‘Our company needs 100 bags of first-class wheat’?
“I have the same question regarding the usage of the phrases ‘do give’ and ‘do acknowledge’ in ‘We do give discounts for bulk orders’ and ‘We do acknowledge his contribution to the progress of our company.’ Can ‘do’ not be dropped to simplify the sentences to ‘We give discounts for bulk orders’ and ‘We acknowledge his contribution to the progress of our company’?
“To me, the use of these phrases is a sign of pomposity, if not ignorance of the basic rules of English grammar.”
My reply to Mr. Oliveros:
Since your second question relates more directly to my previous column on how the helping verb “do” takes the tense in English, let me answer it first.
We can’t unilaterally drop the helping verb “do” for simplicity’s sake in “We do give discounts for bulk orders” and “We do acknowledge his contribution to the progress of our company.” And I must say right off that the usage of “do” as auxiliary to the main verbs “give” and “acknowledge” in those sentences definitely isn’t a sign of pomposity, much less of ignorance of the basic rules of English grammar. On the contrary, that usage of the so-called emphatic “do” is a mark of discernment and precision in expressing oneself in English.
You see, the emphasis that “do” provides to the main verb in that construction denotes the speaker’s determination or conviction in what he or she is saying; in short, it is meant to make the statement more forceful. In a very real sense, the emphatic “do” is meant to give the listener or reader a definite sense of the speaker’s or writer’s state of mind or feeling about what’s being said.
In contrast, when we do away with the emphatic “do” in those sentences, we reduce them to simple declaratives, which typically just impassively state a fact or opinion and don’t convey the speaker’s or writer’s feeling about it: ‘We give discounts for bulk orders’ and ‘We acknowledge his contribution to the progress of our company.’ There’s nothing grammatically or semantically wrong about such declarative sentences, of course, but I think the English-speaking world will be such a dry, emotionally detached place if all people spoke that way all the time.
Now as to your first question: Why use the phrase “in need of” rather than just the verb “need” in these sentences: “Our school is in need of full-time English teachers” and “Our company is in need of 100 bags of first-class wheat”?
You do have a point that for conciseness and simplicity’s sake, “in need of” can very well be dropped from those sentences and replaced with just “needs”: “Our school needs full-time English teachers” and “Our company needs 100 bags of first-class wheat.” The basic sense of the two sentences remains the same, but I do think that the usage of “in need of,” as in the case of the emphatic “do,” is neither a sign of pomposity nor of ignorance of the basic rules of English grammar.
It’s simply that using “in need of” to mean “requiring or having a lack of something” has become customary among native English speakers—a well-established idiomatic phrase, so to speak—so it will be needless and foolhardy for us to excise it from our English for simplicity’s sake.
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