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If I see someone struggling to pick up a box, I'd say: "Do you need help with that?"

Or I have to run an errand very soon, I could say: "I need to buy this gift by 4 pm."

Or if someone's car has stopped working, I could say: "Do you need a lift?"

Do the Japanese use the word "need" in this way? Or is there a special word/particle/ending that provides the same usage/function?

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You could say (noun)が必要【ひつよう】だ or (verb plain form)必要がある.

その仕事には{協力/協調}が必要だ → That work requires cooperation.
彼に話す必要がありますか → Is it necessary to tell him?

However, this would probably sound patronizing if you were asking someone like "Do you need help with that?" Might just be better to ask if you can help them do the thing.

それを手伝いましょうか → Shall I help you with that?

"Need" can also be interchangeable with "must" depending on the context, so you can use the {なければ/なきゃ/なくては/ないと}+{ならない/いけない/だめ} form.

4時までにプレゼントを買う必要がある → I need to buy a gift by 4:00
4時までにプレゼントを買わないといけない → I must buy a gift by 4:00 (lit., "It won't go over if I don't buy a gift by 4:00")

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    @sawa: Thank you, I don't know why I couldn't think of 協力 when I was writing that example. Monday morning, I guess.
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 18:27
  • I think in many cases (where 〜ならない/〜いけない forms might be too strong), you could also use 〜はず or 〜べき to express a need...
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 2:02
  • はずandべきexpress probability and obligation, not need.
    – dainichi
    Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 2:48
  • @dainichi: I think Dave has a point. The problem is that in English, "need" can either have an objective or subjective meaning. Whereas the examples I listed are mostly objective in nature, 〜はず and 〜べき are more subjective. So I think they could work fine depending on the context.
    – istrasci
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 16:54

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