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.
The Cover-Letter Test
Ask yourself if it would be safe to use this kind of sentence in a cover letter.
The bottom line is that whether it’s considered wrong depends on who’s listening. When I have to make a decision about something like this, I use what I call the cover-letter test. Would I feel comfortable telling people to use this type of sentence in a cover letter when they are applying for a job?
If you don’t live in the North Midland region, it’s easy: this construction is wrong.
If you live in a North Midland state, however, it’s not so simple. You might be able to get away with using the “needs washed” construction if you are applying for a job with a local company. On the other hand, your letter could still be reviewed by someone who moved to town from another region, and if you’re applying for a job with a national or international company, people are sure to think you’re not speaking proper English.
Even though everyone you know may well consider the “needs washed” construction perfectly fine, I still have to advise you not to use it.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments on this topic.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students.
Further Reading and Viewing
Carnegie Mellon professor Barbara Johnstone discusses “Pittsburghese”
View all the responses to my “needs washed” question on Facebook (and add your own response if you’d like)
“You Want Punched Out” from the Language Log Website (includes a nice map)
“Louisana Vowels” from the Language Log Website
Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: Needs Washed (includes a nice map)
“History” from the Pittsburgh Speech and Society page at University of Pittsburgh
“Special Needs” on the Literal Minded blog
“You Say Soda, I Say Pop: A Midwestern Observation of Language” Macmillan Dictionary Blog
“Lawn Needs Cut” in the Boston Globe
“Mid-Missouri’s Language Evolution” in Vox Magazine
“Steel Town Speak” from PBS
Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar by Terence Odlin
“Wants + Past Participle in American English” from American Speech (subscription required for full access)
“Need + Past Participle in American English” in American Speech (subscription required for full access)
A version of this article originally ran September 8, 2011.