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"need" or "must"


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Even though I'm speaking English now for more than ten years, there are sometimes still a few things that bother me because I'm never sure how to use them. I would like to know the difference between the two words need and must, plus I would really appreciate if someone could teach me in what occasion I have to use must and in what occasions I should rather use the word need. There is a very similar word to must in the German language and I always end up being very confused. Thanks for your replies in advance.

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They are similar verbs and I can understand the confusion. 

The verb "need" is more limited in meaning.  It refers to something that is necessary or that one must have. 

As in:

We need oxygen to breathe.

We need food and water to stay alive.

Of course there are "needs" that are not quite life and death matters and these kinds of "needs" may be from desire or habit.

As in:

I need to buy a new coat.  (Although I might already have more coats than I know what to do with!)

As for the verb "must" this is an obligation or a requirement, possibly even a legal requirement.

As in:

I must pass the exam to be admitted to the school.

He must drive under the speed limit or he risks getting a ticket.

We must inform the supervisor that we are leaving the office for lunch or we will get in trouble.

I hope this is helpful. :)

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I would think "must" is something that requires you to complete almost immediately, which there's no other choice besides the task in which you have to complete. "Need' sounds less harsh than "must" because it doesn't mean you have to do the things so rush. I think "must" is more like a regulation in which you have to follow no matter what.

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Thank you for your replies so far, your explanations definitively helped me. So to sum it up, you basically use the word must if you refer to something that is mandatory - e.g. you must wear protection if you want to skateboard - and the word need in all other occasions? You see, this is giving me a hard time.

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When someone requires another person to do something, they sometimes use "must" in order to emphasize the fact that they have to comply. Must is more forceful than need, when you are giving directions or commands to someone else. For example, "You must remove your shoes after entering the building".

"Need" may be used when making suggestions that you think the other person should follow. Since it's a suggestion, not a command, the word "need" gives the person more room to choose other options. For example, you may tell a friend that you're upset by something someone said to you. While giving advice, your friend might say, "You need to tell him/her that you're upset".

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  • 4 weeks later...

I do see how one could get confused with both verbs :confused:. However, the best and simplest way to look at it is to think of "need" as a requirement and "must" as an order or enforcement :cool:.

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