Recently, Mignon Fogarty (known as Grammar Girl, the author of the book I talked about in last week's Word Nerd Wednesday) asked her readers on Facebook to help her pinpoint a geographical trend in speech.
It's a quirk and (yes, I'll say it) an error that puzzles me, but I hear it often enough.
I don't know where it hails from. I get the idea that it's particularly common the Midwest, but I've seen people use it who are from all over the place, from California to Florida and in between.
As we usually do here on WNW, the grammatical "back story" first:
A direct object is something a verb modifies, or refers to.
Amy drank milk.Brandon eats candy.
Here, milk and candy are the direct objects. They're what the verbs (drank, eats) refer to.
Direct objects are nouns.
A refresher: What's a noun? A person, place or thing.
A noun is NOT an adjective or a state of being.
For the goofiness of it (because it'll show the quirk later), let's turn one of the direct objects above into an adjective. Let's see how well that works:
Adjective: Amy drank red.
Okay, that doesn't work at all. You could add something to it so it makes sense, like, oh A NOUN after RED (which we needed all along, right?):
Amy drank red punch.
Let's try it with a state of being:
Brandon eats washed.
Granted, that's beyond silly. But it shows that a state of being, or in this case, a past-tense verb, simply can't work here. It doesn't make sense. You couldn't come up with another set of verb + direct object where a state of being works. Those just don't go together.
How about this state of being:
The turkey is cooked.
See, now that works. Why? We aren't using a verb that requires a direct object.
The sentence is constructed to explain the state of being the turkey is in, using the key word IS. So we don't need a direct object that the verb refers to. The turkey just IS.
You can ask, "The turkey is what?" and the answer is clear: "The turkey is cooked."
But what if the turkey isn't cooked yet, and you need to tell someone to put the turkey into the oven? You could start out with stating the situation of the turkey:
"The turkey isn't cooked."
Or just say what needs to happen. NEED is a verb that requires a direct object. Refresher: a direct object is a NOUN, right?
So: Ready for the quiz?
The turkey needs . . . WHAT?
Well, it's raw. We aren't saying the turkey needs a hat or a box. But we do need a noun, and it needs to be an action, although a verb won't do. (Because verbs aren't nouns!)
BUT you can "noun-ify" verbs in two ways:
1) Add -ING to the end. The turkey needs cooking.
2) ADD "TO BE" before it. The turkey needs to be cooked.
Here's where I get all a-twitching. I see people say things like this all the time:
The car needs washed.
Who needs tickled?
**Direct objects are NOUNS. Past-tense verbs aren't nouns.**
So these are correct:
The car needs TO BE washed.
The car needs WASHING.
Who needs TO BE tickled?
Who needs TICKLING?
The turkey needs TO BE cooked.
The turkey needs COOKING.
I let some things slide with my kids, rules that are gradually going away and may seem antiquated (who/whom, can/may), but stuff like this is absolutely crazy-making to my ear.