Needs Washed

Have you ever visited a relative or met someone who said their car "needs washed" instead of their car "needs TO BE washed"? Here's why.

Mignon Fogarty
6-minute read
Episode #507

Today we’re going to talk about regionalisms. Mostly about the “needs washed” quirk of Pittsburghese, but I may throw in some other fun ones at the end.

Whenever I give radio interviews, especially when the station is in the Midwest, callers almost always ask questions like this one from Douglas:

The other day I heard a co-worker say, "My car needs washed." I THINK she should have said, "My car needs to be washed" or "I need to get my car washed" or perhaps even "My car needs washing." What do you think?

I think Douglas’ co-worker almost certainly grew up in a place linguists call the North Midland  region or, perhaps, has parents from that region. Pittsburgh is the epicenter of “needs washed” kind of sentences, but they’re also very common throughout Pennsylvania, and roughly as far west as Iowa, as far North as southern Michigan, and as far south as northern West Virginia.

“Needs Washed” Map

I asked my Facebook and Google+ followers if they had ever heard it and got nearly 600 responses.

needs washed dialect map

You’ll see that although it’s concentrated in the areas I just mentioned, it’s certainly not limited to them. For example, I was surprised by the number of people in southern Oregon and southern Idaho who reported hearing “needs washed” kind of sentences.

It’s not limited to the word “needs” either. People in those regions may also form sentences this way with the verb “likes” or “wants.” For example, “The dog wants walked,” and “The dog likes petted,” instead of “The dog wants to be walked,” and “The dog likes to be petted.”

[Image Key: Blue="needs washed" heard. Red="needs washed" not heard. Purple="needs washed" heard from someone known to have moved here from another region]


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.