“Its origins need traced.”
Certain verbs in standard English take either an infinitive form of the verb (1) or a gerundival form (2) as a complement. In the so-called "needs washed" construction, a form of need (or want or like) appears with a bare passive participle, as we see in (3):
1) The car needs to be repaired.
2) The car needs repairing.
3) The car needs repaired.
The most common verb associated with this construction is need. However, Murray and Simon (2002) show that want and like are sometimes possible as well. (See Murray and Simon 1999 for an extended discussion of want + V-en and maps of its approximate distribution.)
4) Cindy, this one [baby] just woke up and probably wants fed.
5) [The dog] sure does like petted.
Who says this?
Murray and Simon (2002) describe the rough boundaries as Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, Central Indiana. Pockets of speakers might exist as far as Kentucky and Illinois. This construction is also attested in Scots English, which might be its historical source.
According to Murray and Simon (1999), the need/want + V-en construction shows no significant sociolinguistic trends other than race, where they say that "whites favor the construction significantly more than blacks" (pp. 149). They found this to be nearly categorical with like + V-en in Murray and Simon (2002).
While Brassil (2009) claimed that "need washed" sentences are generally incompatible with a by-phrase naming the agent of the participle, Whitman (2010) and Edelstein (to appear) have argued that by-phrases are, in fact, possible. The examples in (6) are Whitman's and those in (7) are Edelstein's.
6) a.*The car needs washed, not necessarily by you, but by someone before the weekend.
b.*I’ve written up the document, but before it goes out, it needs checked by Kim, Alex, and Sandy.
7) a.*The baby wants cuddled by her mother.
b.*The soul needs fed by creative, multi-dimensional teaching.
Traditionally, by-phrases have been used to tell the difference between passives and so-called "middles" like This book reads easily, and also between verbal passives and adjectival passives. However, Bruening (to appear) argues that adjectival passives in fact can occur with by-phrases. If so, than by-phrases won't be able to tell us whether "needs washed" sentences involve adjectival passives or verbal passives. As discussed next, there are other reasons to think that they involve verbal passives.
No adjectival adverbs
According to Edelstein (to appear), adverbs which may precede adjectival passives do not occur naturally with "needs washed" sentences. Her examples are shown in (8a-b), to which we add (c).
8) a.*The well written letter
b.*The letter needs well written.
c.*The letter seems well written.
If "needs washed" sentences involved adjectival participles, we would expect that (8a) would be possible. The unacceptability of (8) therefore suggests that "needs washed" sentences involve verbal participles.
Purpose clauses allowed
Purpose infinitives are possible with the "needs washed" construction, according to Edelstein (to appear), who provides the examples in (9).
9) a.*The new set still needs washed to kill germs.
b.*Your brain needs fed to work out.
c.*He wants cuddled to go to sleep.
Subject not necessarily volitional, even with want or like
Edelstein (to appear) also claims that the subject of the construction is not necessarily volitional. She gives the examples in (10). (10c) is originally from Murray and Simon (2002:41).
10) a.*That Doctor of hers wants reprimanded for missing that one!!
b.*All kids want told off from time to time.
c.*[a particular plant...] is easy to grow, except that it ‘likes watered every day’.
In these sentences, it is obvious that it is not the doctor's desire to be reprimanded, or the kids' desire to be told off. Given the context, (10c) is probably not meant to express the desire of a (perhaps anthropomorphized) plant! In these uses, the meaning of the verb comes quite close to meaning 'need'.
Auxiliary need needn't apply
In the presence of negation, the word need can be an auxiliary or a main verb. When it is an auxiliary, it precedes negation and takes no inflectional -s. When it is a main verb, do is needed and need follows negation.
11) a.*The car needn't be washed so thoroughly.
b.*The car doesn't need to be washed so thoroughly.
Edelstein (to appear) points out that only the main verb need is possible in the "needs washed" construction. Modal need is not possible. This is shown in (12).
12) a.*The car needn't washed.
b.*The car doesn't need washed.
Psych verbs possible
According to Tenny (1998), the "needs washed" construction is possible for many speakers with object-experiencer psych verbs, even when the understood subject is not a volitional agent. This is illustrated in (13).
13) a. Some people need saddened by tragedy, in order to achieve wisdom.
b. Nobody needs angered by the truth.
Tenny (1998) argues that the "needs washed" construction involves an unambiguously verbal passive, and cannot be an adjectival passive. Therefore, she claims, the facts of the "needs washed" construction are only compatible with theories that allow non-agentive object-experiencer psych verbs to form verbal passives. As such, the "needs washed" construction has the potential to tell us something about language that would have been harder to figure out otherwise.
Page contributed by Zach Maher and Jim Wood
Needs washed data
Bloomquist, Jennifer. 2009. Dialect differences in central Pennsylvania: Regional dialect use and adaptation by African Americans in the lower Susquehanna Valley. American Speech 84 (1), 27-47. (Page 32)
Brassil, Dan. 2009. A middle voice in Appalachian English. Paper presented at LSA Annual Meeting.
Bruening, Benjamin. To appear. Word Formation is Syntactic: Adjectival Passives in English. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. Prepublication version available here.
Edelstein, Elspeth. To appear. This syntax needs studied. In Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn [eds.] Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English. Oxford University Press.
Kaschak, Michael P. and Arthur M. Glenberg. 2004. This construction needs learned. Journal of Experimental Psychology 133 (3), 450–467.
Kaschak, Michael P. 2006. What this construction needs is generalized. Memory and Cognition 34 (2), 368–379.
Murray, Thomas E. 1987. Appalachia on the Move: need + [verb] + -ed in Ohio. In Thomas E. Murray [ed.] Aspects of American English, 51-63. Reynoldsburg, OH: Advocate.
Murray, Thomas E. 1990. Appalachian/Ozarkian English on the Plains. Kansas Quarterly 22 (4): 45-74.
Murray, Thomas E., and Beth Lee Simon Timothy C. Frazer. 1996. Need + past participle in American English. American Speech 71:255–271.
Murray, Thomas E., and Beth Lee Simon. 1999. Want + past participle in American English. American Speech 74:140–164.
Murray, Thomas E., and Beth Lee Simon. 2002. At the intersection of regional and social dialects: The case of like + past participle in American English. American Speech 77:32–69.
Stabley, Rhodes R., and A. L. H. 1959. ‘Needs painted’ etc., in Western Pennsylvania. American Speech 34:69–70.
Tenny, Carol. 1998. Psych verbs and verbal passives in Pittsburghese. Linguistics 36:591–597.
Ulrey, Kathleen S. 2009. Dinner needs cooked, groceries need bought, diapers needed changed, kids need bathed: Tracking the progress of need + past participle across the United States. Master’s thesis, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.
Whitman, Neal. 2010. Special Needs. Literal-Minded. Available here.