Hello all,

I have read that the verb "need" can be used in modal form only in the present tense. This makes me wonder in what tense it is in the following passage from "Jekyl and Hyde":

«The letter was written in an odd, upright hand and signed "Edward Hyde": and it signified, briefly enough, that the writer's benefactor, Dr. Jekyll, whom he had long so unworthily repaid for a thousand generosities, need labour under no alarm for his safety, as he had means of escape on which he placed a sure dependence.»

The overall context is past, and I can't see a way to interpret it as present tense...

Thank you in advance,
Hidden in this great 19th-Century prose is the subjunctive form, need, the reason for which I cannot identify right now. The subjunctive was used much more commonly at the time this was written. The subjunctive is the bare form of the infinitive, the same for all persons, singular and plural.
Ant_222I have read that the verb "need" can be used in modal form only in the present tense.
That rings true for modern English, but I seem to recall that need, must, and dareused to be used as modals in the past in the past. Emotion: smile

Older: It signified that the benefactor need labour under no alarm for his safety.
Modern: It signified that the benefactor did not need to labour under any alarm for his safety.

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Thanks for chiming in, CJ. So, you think it's not a subjunctive form? I was merely speculating because it sounded like one to me.
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Hi, Philip,

I was on the fence about it, so I avoided (I thought) any suggestion that your interpretation was wrong. The reason for my vacillation was the verb signify, which seemed to me unable to govern a subjunctive -- and yet -- ???

Had the verb been demand or suggest, which easily take the subjunctive, or on the other hand, say or claim, which don't (normally), I would have found the decision easier.

I asked myself the following.

Do I accept

It signified that the benefactor be in no danger.
as a substitute for
It signified that the benefactor was in no danger.
even allowing for an out-of-date style?

I think I lean toward the non-subjunctive interpretation, at the same time realizing that my defense of it is only lukewarm. Emotion: smile

Thank you, CalifJim and Philip, for the interesting discussion.

When I had gone to bed this night, I ruminated on the explanation through the subjunctive, like Philip, although it never occurred to me that the verb ("signify") might be not suitable for it.