What Is a Need?


A need is a condition that indicates an absolute requirement or obligation to do something. It is the opposite of want, which is a desire or wish. In some contexts, the term need may also be a synonym for demand.

The concept of need and desire is a central one in the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, economics, business and politics. It is also important to distinguish between needs and wants when creating budgets, as a mistake in this area can lead to a financial disaster.

Generally, a need is considered to be any item that is necessary for human survival and well-being. These include food, clothing, shelter and medical care. In addition, a person has certain psychological needs that are not immediately life-threatening, such as the need to belong to a group or the need for self-actualization.

However, not all needs are essential to human survival, and some people can live without basic necessities. Some people have secondary needs, which are more specific and can vary over time. For example, after locating a new apartment, a person might need furniture or a closet to store their clothes. Lastly, tertiary needs are additional items that may not be essential but can improve the quality of life, such as sports cars or brand clothing.

Some of the most common needs are water, electricity and food. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language explains that these are basic commodities because they are needed for survival. In contrast, a luxury item is a want because it is not required for survival. Often, the difference between needs and wants is defined in terms of price. A person will be willing to spend more on a need than on a want.

A need can be identified by its deficiency, which results in an adverse outcome. For example, if you don’t drink when you are thirsty, you will become increasingly thirsty and could die from dehydration. Similarly, the need to belong to a group can be identified by its absence: if you don’t have friends, you will feel lonely.

In English, the auxiliary verb need is used mainly in negative and interrogative sentences. It is a semi-modal verb, meaning that it acts in some ways like a modal verb and in others like a main verb. It is not used to form affirmative statements and is never followed by a subject with the suffix -s. It is also rarely followed by a past participle, although this usage is more prevalent in some parts of the United States.

In the United States, the auxiliary need is often replaced with do not need in positive statements. For example, if you do not need to work hard to pass the exam, you might say, ‘I don’t need to study’. In other cases, the auxiliary need is replaced with the word must, as in, ‘I must study hard to pass the exam’. However, must is rarely used in formal writings.