What Is a Need?


The word need means a necessary condition: The crops were in need of water. It can also mean a requisite duty or obligation: We have need to act quickly. It can even refer to a feeling of shortage or deprivation: I feel that I need more money.

There are different kinds of needs, and they vary from person to person. Some are physical, such as the need for food or shelter. Others are psychological, such as the need for self-esteem or feelings of safety. Still others are social, such as the need for belonging or status. The needs of a human being are usually considered to be basic and vital, so that if they are not met, the individual will suffer physically or mentally.

A need can be a limiting factor in a person’s life, as well as a source of frustration and anger. For example, a person may not have enough money to afford health care, which is a basic need. Or a person may have a mental health need for therapy, which is a vital need for good mental health. The details of need satisfaction are usually determined by rational identification using up-to-date scientific knowledge; consideration of the actual experiences of individuals in their everyday lives; and democratic decision-making. This process is often called “capability theory.” People who have more internal assets or capacities (such as education, good health, financial resources) are better able to fulfill their needs than those who have fewer capabilities.

What Is the Difference Between Need and Want?

When creating a budget, it is important to separate needs from wants. Needs are expenses that are essential to your survival, such as food and housing. Wants are expenses that you could live without, such as designer clothing. Make a list of all your fixed and non-fixed needs, then compare it with a list of your wants. Are there any items on the needs list that are unnecessary? Can any of the wants be eliminated or lowered in priority?

Some of our top basic human needs include uncertainty, variety, and self-esteem. Those who have uncertainty as one of their top basic needs are often unafraid to take risks and like meeting new people. They might change jobs frequently or take a lot of risks in their relationships. They also might crave excitement and the adrenaline jolt that comes from risk-taking.

Need behaves sometimes like an auxiliary verb, such as can and may, and other times like a main verb. When need behaves as an auxiliary, it agrees with its subject and takes to before the verb following it. It can also be combined with do in questions, negations and certain other constructions: He needs to go. It is less common to use the auxiliary form needn’t with a present participle, so you will not hear someone saying He needn’t go. This usage is most common in formal contexts and in the British Isles. However, the word need can also be used with past participles in some areas of the United States.