il faut & j'ai besoin
Hello, I was wondering if somebody could clarify the difference between "j'ai besoin" and "il faut" thanks
"il faut", an impersonal phrase, is extremely versatile and its meanings can range from "must, to have to, to need to, should" to "it is necessary, it is required, it is needed".
Just keep in mind that "il faut" is number 14 ("aimer" is number 20!) on the list of the most frequent French verbs used in writing, and probably at the same rank if not higher in spoken French.
"avoir besoin de" is mostly used with nouns that can be countable or not:
- j'ai besoin d'argent, d'aide, de repos...
- j'ai besoin d'une scie (a saw), de clous (nails), du formulaire (the form)...
"avoir besoin de + infinitive" is far less frequent than "to need to + verb", and very often replaced by "il faut" or "devoir":
- he needs to buy a new car = il faut qu'il achète une nouvelle voiture / il doit acheter une nouvelle voiture. Note that "il a besoin d'acheter une nouvelle voiture" sounds a bit awkward and wordy, even if this is grammatically correct.
You will find more specific info about this in context in the sentence forums and in the TipsNotes (unit: Present1).
The closest equivalent is "it is necessary that he buy", with a conjunction (que/that) and the verb in the subjunctive.
"Il faut acheter" does not tell who has to buy. "Il lui faut acheter" does tell that a 3rd person singular person has to buy, but this formula is a bit literary and much less in use than "il faut qu'il achète".
Avoir besoin de (j'ai besoin de in the first person present tense) means "I need" or literally "I have need of".
Il faut is the third-person masculine singular for the verb "falloir", which means "to be necessary".
I always translate "il faut" in my head as "it is necessary". You mainly only see the verb falloir used in this way.
To keep it simple: to say "I need" or "he needs" always use "avoir besoin de". So "he needs" would be "il a besoin de". To say "it is necessary" always use "il faut". There's no great logic behind it, it is just the way it is, I think.
Best regards and good luck.
Bien cordialement et bonne chance.
"J'ai besoin de" (I need) works like "J'ai envie de (I feel like), j'ai faim (I am hungry), j'ai soif (I am thirsty), j'ai sommeil (I am sleepy), j'ai peur de (I am afraid of), j'ai honte de (I am ashamed of)...".
All these are idiomatic and use the verb "avoir" followed by a noun.
There are a couple of things you should remember:
- "Il faut" is the 14th most frequent verb in French, so you will hear/read it a lot.
- However, it is difficult to use for English speakers because of its impersonal construction and the need for a subjunctive after "il faut que.
- On the other hand "to need to do stg" only rarely translates to "avoir besoin de faire quelque chose".
Bottom-line: you can use the verb "devoir" for almost every "need to/must/have to". Now, you just have to learn all conjugations for "devoir".