“Needs To Be Done” vs. “Needed To Be Done” – Difference Explained

When it comes to using “needs to be done” and “needed to be done,” you should know the differences to make sure you’re using them correctly. Believe it or not, there’s a pretty distinct difference between them. In this article, we’ll explore what that is and how to use it.

What Is The Difference Between “Needs To Be Done” And “Needed To Be Done”?

“Needs to be done” should be used when asking for a list of things needing completion; however, those things don’t usually complete the overall project. “Needed to be done” should be used when asking for a list of everything that needs finishing to complete the project.

What Is The Difference Between "Needs To Be Done" And "Needed To Be Done"?

The main differences between the phrases here are based on the tenses used for them. We can determine that “needs” is the tense we use to ask what things we might be able to work on in the present, though those things might not complete the overall project.

We use “needed” when we’re looking for a complete list of everything that is still left to do. However, once all of those things are completed, the overall project will also be completed.

It might seem like a minor difference, but it plays a key role in defining them, and you should remember both meanings when it comes to using them yourself.

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What Is The Meaning Of “Needs To Be Done”?

Let’s dive deeper into the meaning of both of the phrases. We’ll start with the more obvious one, which is mostly used when we’re asking for a list of tasks to do.

“Needs to be done” is used when we want to find out what should be completed. We’re usually presented with a list of things to choose from, although completing these things might not complete the task as a whole.

We will hear “needs to be done” much more commonly than “needed to be done.” People often just ask for a list of things to do rather than an exact list that applies to complete a task.

It might sound very confusing, and it is at first, but stay with us.

“Needs to be done” might be seen in the following way:

  • What needs to be done next?
  • I have a list of three things here, so pick your favorite.

In this example, we see a conversation between two people. Someone is asking what “needs to be done” from a list. The other person replies with some options for them to choose from.

No matter what option they pick, there will still be two options left, meaning the overall task isn’t going to be completed when they complete their one singular task.

What Is The Meaning Of “Needed To Be Done”?

Now let’s go over what “needed to be done” means. It’s less common to come across, but it’s still essential to understand its meaning.

“Needed to be done” is used when you want to find out exactly what needs completion before the task as a whole is finalized. Generally, we’re still asking for the options, but the list implies that all must be completed to complete the task.

Again, it’s much easier to explain the meaning of “needed to be done” with an example, so we’ll show you the following:

  • What is needed to be done to complete this?
  • These three things need completing.

As you can see, the general exchange is very similar. However, the person replying isn’t telling the questioner to pick up one task; and instead, they’re saying that all three things must be completed to complete the overall project.

It might be a very subtle difference, but it’s a difference that native speakers pay attention to. You want to make sure you’re using the correct form when it comes to it.

Can “Needs To Be Done” And “Needed To Be Done” Ever Be Used Interchangeably?

Sometimes, phrases like this are interchangeable. Even though they have different meanings, some native speakers don’t mind getting them slightly confused or blurring the lines if it helps.

“Needs to be done” and “needed to be done” are not interchangeable for the most part. One asks for a new task, while the other asks for all the tasks needed before completing a project.

Generally, this meaning is accepted by all native speakers. That’s why many people steer clear of using “needed to be done.” When asking the question, most people are only looking for the next task to do rather than all the tasks as a whole.

Is “Needs To Be Done” Or “Needed To Be Done” Used The Most?

We’ve explained briefly that “needs to be done” is the more popular choice of the two. However, to prove our point, we thought it might help you to put some data alongside it.

From this graph, we can see that “needs to be done” is the most popular choice and has been for the last 200 years. It’s about twice as popular as “needed to be done” because the situations where it applies are more frequent.

Is "Needs To Be Done" Or "Needed To Be Done" Used The Most?

Of course, the above graph isn’t the only piece of data we can mention. According to Google, “needs to be done” is mentioned 14,700 times on The New York Times website, while “needed to be done” is mentioned 11,300 times.

While those numbers are slightly closer than the graph made them out to be, “needs to be done” is still the more popular choice on all accounts. You’ll be better off making sure to use that one over any other option.

Examples Of How To Use “Needs To Be Done” In A Sentence

Let’s go over some examples of using “needs to be done” in a sentence. We’ll include as many options as we can to help you understand how it works. We’ll also include some replies to the questions so you can understand the difference better.

Remember, “needs to be done” is asking mostly for a new task to complete and not looking for all the tasks.

  • What needs to be done next?
  • I can offer you one of these things to do.
  • Can you tell me if that needs to be done?
  • Yes, it’s one of the more important things to complete.
  • What needs to be done to help him?
  • The doctor said there were too many things to list!
  • Is there anything that needs to be done right now?
  • Yep! You can look at this list to pick what works for you.
  • I don’t think anything needs to be done on this now.
  • You might be right, but we shouldn’t give up.

As you can see, the response to “needs to be done” always gives options to some degree. It’s supposed to show us that there are multiple potential tasks to complete, but completing them won’t be able to complete the overall job.

Still, completing one task is a good step forward to completing it all.

Examples Of How To Use “Needed To Be Done” In A Sentence

Now let’s go over the slightly less popular “needed to be done” in some examples.

“Needed to be done” is used to ask for a complete list of things to finish before the task is considered complete.

  • What is still needed to be done?
  • These things need to be done.
  • Is there anything left that’s needed to be done?
  • Not that I can think of!
  • What’s needed to be done here?
  • Not much, but these things have been highlighted.

“Needed to be done” as a phrase is much less popular, and a lot of native speakers believe it to be jarring and unnecessary. They’ll often replace the phrase to make it more palatable and readable.

For example:

  • What is needed to be done?
  • Is this everything that needs to be done?

These two phrases are identical but use a different tense for “needs to be done.” When we’re presenting the full list of options, the second example is more acceptable to native English speakers. The first example feels a bit too clunky and isn’t good practice.

“Needs To Be Done” And “Needed To Be Done” – Synonyms

We thought it would help to look through some synonyms and alternatives for the phrases. With these, you won’t have to worry about getting the tenses correct. Instead, you can focus on conveying your meaning without any extra steps.

  • Left to do

If you want to ask about things that are left in a task, then “what is left to do” is a good question to ask. You can simply add a question mark to the end of it and find out what remaining tasks there are. This is a much less confusing option than saying “needed to be done.”

  • Must be done

Instead of saying “needs to be done,” we can say “what must be done” if we’re asking about tasks left to complete. It works really well and there isn’t a second variation of “must” that you have to worry about.

Is It “Needs To Be Done” Or “Need To Be Done”?

We’ll cover a few extra questions you might have to finish up the article. It’s important to cover all angles when it comes to learning new rules, so make sure you read this part carefully.

“Needs to be done” is correct when you’re talking about tasks in the singular sense. “Need to be done” is correct when you’re using the plural form.

To clarify what we mean, look at the following examples:

  • What needs to be done?

This is the most common form to use. “What” is a singular word, asking whether there is another task left to do.

  • What tasks need to be done?

We’re now using “tasks” as a plural word after “what.” This is when we change “need” to “needs” to indicate that we’re talking about a plural.

Should I Use “Needs Doing” Or “Needs To Be Done”?

Generally, we want to encourage streamlining language when it comes to speaking correct and coherent English.

“Needs doing” is a great alternative to using “needs to be done.” It is written in the active voice, which is good to get used to writing in. “Needs to be done” is in the passive voice, which isn’t always suitable.

The two phrases are identical in meaning. You can see that with the following examples:

  • What needs to be done next?
  • What needs doing next?

Both of these mean the same thing; you’re just making sure to get to the point quicker with the second example.

Is “It’s Needs To Be Done” Grammatically Correct?

“It’s needs to be done” is grammatically incorrect and should not be used. “It’s” is a contraction of “it is,” which should show you why it doesn’t make sense.

The phrase:

  • It is needs to be done.

Should be more than enough evidence to show you that this is grammatically incorrect.

What Is The Difference Between “Is To Be Done” And “Has To Be Done”?

“Is to be done” is used to talk about tasks that need doing, but there isn’t much urgency as to when those tasks should be completed. “Has to be done” is used to talk about tasks that need doing soon to complete a task, and there’s a large dependency on them.

  • This is to be done as soon as you get a chance.
  • This has to be done before the end of the day.

As you can see, “is to be done” is less urgent. We’re encouraging someone to complete something without giving them a time frame. “Has to be done” is more urgent, and a time frame is often provided to hurry someone along.

Is “Needed” Grammatically Correct?

“Needed” is a grammatically correct word. It’s the past tense form of the verb “to need.” We can use it when we’re talking about something that we really wanted to do in the past. It can also be used in other forms like the past perfect.

  • I needed help with my essay.

As you can see from this example, “needed” is the correct form to use. It shows that we needed the help in the past but now it’s too late to do so.