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Lack of obligation
When we want to express a lack of obligation (which normally needs a modal auxiliary), European students immediately think of a copy of their own structures: "It isn't necessary..." and almost immediately add "that" : "it isn't necessary that..." ... No harm done yet... If they go on copying their own language, they then make a HUUUUUUUge mistake! Therefore, it's better to learn how
to express that absence or lack of obligation in English, especially as it's quite easy!
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 !)
- It's not necessary FOR you TO change the bed sheets for me.
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.
- Your dad needn't repair his car himself; he can take it to the mechanics...
In the interrogative form, the speaker asks his co-speaker to give his opinion on the necessity or lack of obligation to do the action.
- Need I answer this question? means : 'In your opinion: Need I answer, 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.
- You don't need to answer that question, 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, a lack of objective necessity.
- You didn't have to pay for your ticket: I had an invitation for you!
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