So, as I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself, I was reading the Guardian--this time the 'Work' section--and in an article about lottery millionaires who continue to hold jobs, I read:
Elaine: "If needs be, you'll find me doing the dishes or mopping the floors..."I've seen/heard if needs be before, and Better Half confirms it's what he'd say, but I'd say if need be. Back to Algeo's British or American English?, which says:
CIC [Cambridge International Corpus] indicates that if need be is the usual form in both British and American, with 7.6 and 7.1 [instances per ten million words], respectively. However, if needs be has 1.8 British and no American tokens [per ten million].I did, however, find this claim on adamcadre.ac:
If you're in Wyoming and you're not sure which direction you're going, wait until you start picking up radio stations again and listen to the ads. If they're all about corn, you're entering Nebraska. If they're all about parenting, Utah. Also, for whatever reason, people on Utah radio keep saying "if needs be" instead of "if need be." Not sure what's up with that.Nor am I/Me neither.
Now, this is just some idle wondering, but I have two hypotheses as to why needs has been growing this -s, particularly in BrE. They're not mutually exclusive--both reasons could be conspiring against if need be:
- If need be is a set phrase involving a subjunctive verb form (be), and the subjunctive has survived much better in AmE than in BrE. (Another of those topics that I will write a separate post about!) Since the phrase therefore makes a bit less grammatical sense in a dialect without the subjunctive, maybe some speakers are more comfortable using it with a plural verb. Note that the past tense of the phrase is if need were (OED, 2003 draft)--i.e. the subjunctive [singular or plural] past tense form looks like the indicative (non-subjunctive) plural past tense. So, that could make people feel like the subjunctive should go with a plural subject.
- There is another set phrase with a similar meaning, needs must, which has plural marking on the need and an odd verb, so they might influence each other. For example:
a1902 F. NORRIS Pit (1903) ii. 51 Then needs must that Laura go with the cook to see if the range was finally and properly adjusted.
1991B. WHITEHEAD Dean it was that Died (BNC) 132 She sighed again. Today she would have to go back home, making out that she'd been in London staying with a friend... Well, needs must. [OED, draft entry 2003]
World-Wide Words discusses needs must and related phrases here, and although it's not noted as AmE or BrE, I have the impression that I only started hearing/reading needs must after I moved to the UK, so perhaps it is more common/influential here.
[Bracketed parts of the last paragraph are later edits--see comments for, um, commentary.]