Friday, October 5, 2012

Regional Dialects: "My Hair Needs Combed"

An anonymous reader writes:
I have a female friend who has a habit of saying things like, "My hair needs combed." I was under the impression that the verb "to be" should be inserted in there, as in "My hair needs to be combed." Which is grammatically correct?
Egads. "My hair needs combed" sounds positively awful to me. But then again, I'm not from the Midlands. If I were from Pittsburgh, the epicenter of this region, I would surely think that "My hair needs combed" sounded just fine.

I'm going to take a wild guess that your friend hails from somewhere in Pennsylvania or perhaps Ohio, Iowa, or West Virginia.

Your question is about regional dialect. Many people from Pittsburgh and the North Midland region have a habit of dropping the linking verb 'to be' from sentences like the one you mention. Give credit or blame to the many Scots-Irish who settled in that area. The construction is acceptable in the Midlands, but considered nonstandard pretty much everywhere else.

Is it problematic? Not for folks who stay in that region. But let's suppose your friend traveled to Seattle for a job interview. It's extremely likely that an interviewer would think "My resume needs updated" or "That typo needs fixed" was either atrocious or just plain weird.

What's grammatically correct? In good, standard grammar, you can either say "My hair needs combing" or "My hair needs to be combed."

But in Pittsburgh, there's nothing wrong with "My hair needs combed."

1 comment:

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