This question of mine has so far got three close votes and a slightly annoying dupe notice hanging around at the top of it when I am signed in:

This question is basically about why it is that the verb need appears to be a control verb [or Equi-deletion verb, if you prefer] when it's followed by an infinitival clause, whereas it works like a hollow clause verb [or a tough-movement verb, if you prefer that terminology] when followed by a gerund-participle clause.

Clearly, this calls for a discussion of gerund-participles. However, it has been linked to a supposed dupe which asks about the dialectical possibility of the verb need taking a past participle as a complement. There is no mention of gerund-participles (-ing forms of the verb) in the linked-to question at all. Here's the theoretical duplicate:

Especially if we see that a question has been asked by a reasonably seasoned or high rep user, could we be a little bit more careful about the duplicate voting, please.

I haven't edited my question in response to the duplicate close-votes. The reason being that I don't think it's helpful for the site to have explanations of why answers to a question about Father Christmas do not answer this here question about cabbages :D

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    The things people come up with as answers to "duplicates" are frequently no improvement on no answer. As I've said, the SE communicational model is a poor one for the topics discussed. The question of how one specifies the object or the subject to be referenced in infinitives or gerunds is a puzzling one; relative infinitives have been bothering me for a long time: the man to see grabs the object, but the man to win grabs the subject. Can it be all context? Dec 2, 2016 at 15:57
  • "The man to win" might "grab the subject" (interesting term); but "the toy to win" probably "grabs the object" in the same way as "the man to see". Presumably it is all context.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:02
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    @Araucaria I concur that the nominee duplicate is wrong. Leave a comment here if the question is closed with that reason.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:03
  • @AndrewLeach Thank you! Dec 2, 2016 at 16:12
  • @AndrewLeach The real issue is whether the question is answerable. Is it other than that's the way it is because English...?
    – user140086
    Dec 2, 2016 at 16:18
  • There is one dupe vote, one. As for the other three votes in favour of closure, users are free to suggest the migration of this question. Migration is not the same as closure. And even if there were a second vote in favour of the dupe, the question would be migrated all the same. It's 3 against 2. So you need to ask the user/s to retract their migration vote.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 2, 2016 at 19:50
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    Whatever. I don't think it should have been migrated either. But then, perhaps the intended question could have been made more explicit in the question (rather than here). I dunno.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Dec 2, 2016 at 21:41
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    @JohnLawler: I think a summary of a good answer would be as follows. In older English, the infinitive could already be used either actively or passively, just as now. The choice between the two verbal frames ('predicate frames') is, in practice, made based on how the constituents fit into either frame. Since the frames of verbs specify certain semantic roles, semantics is an important factor; and context can help readers determine the semantics of the frame. Dec 3, 2016 at 14:44
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    Thanks, @Cerberus; I was pretty much coming to that conclusion myself. Context seems to be everything when so many markers are left out. It's of a piece with so many other linguistic phenomena -- redundancy (in this case the redundancy of using both contextual and syntactic cues) saves the day when one cue set is missing, because the cue sets greatly overlap in range, are mostly coherent with each other, and provide facilities for adaptation. Everything is pre-adapted, to use an evolutionary term. Dec 3, 2016 at 15:46
  • @JohnLawler: Exactly! (Although I'm not sure I understand "pre-adapted".) Dec 3, 2016 at 16:10
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    It means there are a lot of features and loci available for adaptation in new contexts, like feathers on dinosaurs, which evolved for thermal protection and display, but were adapted by birds for flight purposes as well. Every adaptation builds on some previous adaptation. Actually "pre-adaptation" is not a favored term, since it has an etiological sense of evolution preparing for a future adaptation, which is hardly what biologists think. Dec 3, 2016 at 17:59

2 Answers 2


Yes, we should all be very careful about duping and voting to close in general. I’ve always been, I think. My guess is that most of us are―at least most of the time. But there are at the time of posting 388 users with the right to cast close votes. I suppose there will be among these some that are a bit hasty, or are having a bad day, or are even told in their dreams to go and vote to close the first question they see by anyone with a name starting with a.

So I guess wrongful votes will be cast now and then. A good course of action is to argue one’s case with the voters in comments first. If there is an unfortunate coincidence of five wrongful votes then the rest of us will reopen the question. I see this was not necessary on this occasion as all close votes have now been retracted.

So I suppose this is something we have to live with. But in the meantime think twice before casting a close vote and abstain from it altogether if you’re having a hangover.


I am assuming that your main question is "How does the grammar of these sentences affect their meaning?" You ask two further questions, and don't make it clear which you regard the main one. Please edit your question to ask one clear specific question in the question title.

You're right that it is not a dupe of 9331, but I think it is a dupe of How are “needs to be washed,” “needs washing,” and the regional variant “needs washed” to be distinguished"? That question is wider than yours (which is okay for a dupe target), but its answers do cover the semantic/pragmatic differences of how the -ing and to be -ed versions differ.

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    And in what way is my question about the semantics of those constructions. It explicitly asks about the syntax. -1 Dec 3, 2016 at 13:02
  • @Araucaria "How does the grammar of these sentences affect their meaning?" That's what you asked! That's what I assume is your main question! So of course the semantics of these constructions is relevant! Dec 3, 2016 at 13:03
  • If that is not your main question then please heed my suggestion to edit it to ask a more clearly focused question (preferably in both the question body and title). :) Dec 3, 2016 at 13:03
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    You seem to be unable to distinguish between "what is their meaning?" - which surprisingly I understand, being a native speaker and "How DOES THE GRAMMAR affect their meaning?" Dec 3, 2016 at 13:05
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    @Araucaria This part of Neil Coffey's answer seems to very clearly address how the grammar affects the meaning. "In general where either -ing form or infinitive is possible ("they began doing it" vs "they began to do it"), there's also a slight difference in emphasis between the 'process' vs 'outcome' of an action which may come into play here. So saying "He needs teaching a lesson" focusses a little more on the action of "teaching him a lesson", whereas "He needs to be taught a lesson" emphasises the idea of his new status as a reformed character." Dec 3, 2016 at 13:07
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    In any case, I don't appreciate you saying that your question is in no way about the semantics of these constructions when you specifically asked how meaning is affected. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:07
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    Oh dear what tough work this is. That is merely attempting to describe the meaning of the two different constructions and completely misses the point that one is a passive construction whilst the other isn't. So that answer, as well as being incorrect although well written and well meaning, does not address the fundamental issue brought out quite clearly in my question. If you really are, as you claim, a linguist the issue will be quite clear to you. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:10
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    @Araucaria There is more than one phenomenon involved in these constructions. Yes Neil Coffey's answer doesn't address the passiveness of your question. I don't think that's a problem if the main question is "How does the grammar of these sentences affect their meaning?" because the passiveness is not relevant to the process/outcome distinction. If the passiveness is essential to your question, then please edit your question to make that obvious. Once you ask a clear specific question then I'll revoke my close vote if it is no longer applicable. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:11
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    @curiousdannii: The question was perfectly clear to me, and the matter of voice is essential. It seems to me that those voters (not you) often vote against questions they don't even fully comprehend on EL&U. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:30
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    @Cerberus I thought the question was clear too, but apparently I should have ignored one of the actual question which was asked? Sorry, I'm a little frustrated that a simple request like using the question box to ask a question is being refused. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:34
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    We should not choose a question as dupe target that might have the answer to the new question hidden in one of five neglected answers when the potential target has two higher voted answer of which one is accepted. Just write an answer and reference the answer. We should only dupe if it helps future users. This would certainly not.
    – Helmar
    Dec 3, 2016 at 13:40
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    @Helmar The general principle is whether the questions match, not the answers, but sometimes we do judge that older questions should be dupes of newer questions. Here the OP is entirely disputing the relevance of my suggested dupe target and nonsensically claiming that they weren't asking about semantics when the first thing they asked was about meaning. Dec 3, 2016 at 13:44
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    @curiousdannii nonsensical claiming is a harsh judgement. One that based on the down votes of your answer might not be as accurate as you judge it to be. Furthermore we cannot judge based on the question alone, since the dupe notice reads "this question already has an answer here:" If the question asked is not answered in the potential dupe target then it's no valid dupe target.
    – Helmar
    Dec 3, 2016 at 13:48
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    "The general principle is whether the questions match, not the answers" ← Actually, the idea behind duplicates is to help people find the answers to their questions. To figure out if a question is a duplicate, you have to look at the answers on the other question and see how well they answer the question you're closing. If the answers work well, then sure, close as duplicate to send people there. But if the answers are inadequate, it doesn't make any sense to send people there, so closing is a mistake. See meta.stackexchange.com/q/166707 for discussion.
    – user28567
    Dec 3, 2016 at 14:35
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    @snailplane I personally think it's deficient that we can't close questions as dupes of unanswered questions - sure it doesn't help the new asker find an answer, but leaving two questions asking the same thing both open doesn't help either! Only the most clearly asked question should remain open. I've also had to push back on other sites when people have focused on the answers and closed questions as dupes of targets which are essentially completely different but which have an answer which goes on a tangent and addresses the new question. But that's not what's really under discussion here... Dec 3, 2016 at 14:39

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