What is a Need?


A need is a fundamental requirement that must be met to achieve a desired level of satisfaction or survival. Needs can be physical, psychological, social, or emotional. They vary in terms of urgency, intensity, and importance. Needs may also be ranked in order of priority and viewed as hierarchical: a person’s most basic needs are food, water, and shelter, while his or her more sophisticated desires might include companionship and status.

To need is to be in want of something, or to be lacking something essential: The crops need rain; I have a need for love. The word is often used as an auxiliary with an infinitive without to: ‘I need more work,’ or ‘He needs to study for the exam.’ It is also used to create negative sentences: ‘He shouldn’t have gone; he didn’t need to’. A similar verb, necessity, is a stronger form of need, though less common: ‘Water is necessary for life’.

The term need has been used as a theoretical construct in the social sciences and is related to the concept of deprivation theory, developed by psychologists such as Maslow. The academic study of needs reached its zenith in the 1950s, but receives little attention today. A recent alternative is the capability approach, developed by economist Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. This theory argues that individuals with more internal “assets” or capacities, such as education and mental health, are more capable of meeting their own needs.

Identifying your own needs is a necessary step to having them fulfilled. Whether it is a need for self-care or the need for a healthy relationship, you must be able to clearly identify what your needs are before you can make an effort to meet them. This is easier said than done, however, as many people have difficulty identifying their needs in the first place.

Need is a semi-modal verb, meaning that it functions in some ways like a modal verb and in other ways like a regular verb: it takes an auxiliary verb in negative and interrogative sentences and does not add -s when used with he, she, it, or singular nouns: ‘He needs to do more work’; ‘She needs to study for the exam’. It is also a preposition: ‘The crops need water’; ‘I need a partner’.

The word has several synonyms, including want, desire, requirement, and demand. In the context of relationships, it is sometimes used to mean an obligation: ‘I have a need for respect’. The phrase is also a colloquial form of need you: ‘You need to be careful of what you wish for’; ‘I need you to take care of me’. Need can be an adjective as well: ‘This car is a beauty and it definitely has the need for speed’; ‘The book has a need of a good editor’. Need is also an idiom: ‘He was in need of money’; ‘I need new glasses’. It is also a part of some popular phrases: ‘I need a vacation’; ‘This is a beautiful room and it really needs to be furnished’; ‘I need you to help me’; ‘I need my friends’.