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Absence of obligation
ABSENCE OF OBLIGATION IN ENGLISH
Several decades of teaching have taught me that when a French person wants to express an 'absence of obligation',he/ she has an only sentence in mind : 'it is not necessary ... '! OK ! But a few seconds later , things go wrong when he or she systematically adds 'that' (no problem yet ...! ) , immediately followed by a grammatical horror!
1) IT ISN'T NECESSARY... : This form, that French people do love really exists... BUT it must be followed by a complete infinitive proposition (or a 'subjunctive' ... but that's another story !).
ex : It's not necessary FOR you TO answer right away.
Here is, therefore, one of the ways to express an 'absence of obligation' ... but it's not, by far, the only one which is used ...
2) NEEDN'T : NEED : Here, this semi-modal behaves like a real modal auxiliary : that is to say that the negative form is made simply by adding NOT to the 'verb', and doesn't need an auxiliary. It's very often found in the negative form and sometimes in the interrogative one.
ex : You needn't go to that meeting ; it's going to be uninteresting ...
In the interrogative form, the speaker asks his co-speaker to give his opinion on the necessity or absence of obligation to do the action.
ex : 'Need I go home now ?' means : 'In your opinion: Need I go, or not ?'
3) DON'T NEED TO : Here, the semi-modal auxiliary is considered like a normal verb, that is to say it needs the auxiliaries : DO/DOES/DID/WILL/WON'T/WOULD/WOULDN'T etc. in the interrogative and negative forms.
ex: 'You don't need to go to that meeting, really ...'
The difference between 'you needn't go ' and 'you don't need to go' is very small ... Between the two, there's a slight nuance of points of view : 'needn't' expresses a judgement, an opinion from the speaker, whereas 'don't need to' sticks to facts and their observation.
Like for all 'ordinary' verbs, this form is used in all different tenses ('you didn't need to ...' ; he won't need to ... ; they wouldn't need to ...).
4) DON'T HAVE TO : Contrary to 'must', 'have to' expresses an absolute, objective necessity, which isn't required by the speaker. In the negative form, (like 'don't need to') it will express , the mere observation of facts, an absence of objective necessity.
ex : You didn't have to bring your own dictionary : they'll lend you one !
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