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Chinese Grammar: Know the difference between 想 & 要

Maybe you're like Nincha and Lupishu who both love traveling? When you're on the road, it’s important to know how to express oneself. Imagine one day you arrive at a restaurant, so hungry you're on the verge of passing out but you don’t know how to express what you want?! Terrible, right?

Don’t worry now~ we’ve got you covered with this lesson that will show you two key verbs that work wonders to express that you want something: and .

Express wanting to do something

In Chinese, if you want to express the desire to do something, you can use these two words: (xiǎng) and (yào), which both mean “to want”. Both are auxiliary verbs, which means they are always placed before the main verb in the sentence to express feelings, obligation or willingness to do something. Kind of like “must”, “can” or “want” in English.


Subject + / + Verb + Object


I want to go watch a movie.

I want to go watch a movie. (I'm going to go watch a movie).

I want to eat.

I want an orange juice. (here “” is used to order a drink)

I want to go with you.

I will go with you.

As you can see from these examples, and have close meanings and can be used in the same kind of sentences. However, learning the slight differences in meaning between the two will help you know when to use one or the other properly.

Using to express that you want

is like an idea that comes to your mind. You can use when you want to show your intention or your desire. doesn’t mean that you’ll do it right away, though. It’s more like “would like to do”.


I’d like to go to Beijing.

I’d like to eat noodles.

The other meanings of

has also two other meanings, which will help you get a better idea of what is all about:

  • It can also mean “to think”

What you thought was right.

Think about it carefully.

  • And “to miss”.

I miss my mom.

I miss you.

Have you noticed in the examples that although you are able to express your “want” and your opinion with , it’s not very forceful or powerful? To show you have a strong desire to do something and want to set your foot down t you can try using instead to say you WANT this.

Expressing “want” with

means want, but it is more powerful than .

is used when someone wants to do something, plans on doing it, and it will be done right away. Its meaning is closer to “need”, bordering on “demand” and "order", so, depending on the context, it can sound less polite.


I want to go home. (I WANT/ need - to go home)

I want you to answer. (I need/demand you answer)

I want you to come over. ( I need/ order you to come over)

I want an orange juice.

Note: In this sentence, “” means “order”, and is what you use to want to ask and order food and drinks in a restaurant. And when you want to ask someone what they want to drink, also use such as 什么

Not wanting with or

If you want to say you don't want to do something or don't want something, simply add "" before or ... Keep in mind always goes before or and not in front of the main verb. That's always the case in Chinese: when you want to show a negative mood, you modify the auxiliary word that’s placed before the verb, such as or here.


Subject + /不要 + Verb + Object


I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want you to leave.

I don’t want to eat an apple.

不要 可乐
I don't want to drink cola.

不要 回答
I don’t want you to answer. (I don’t need you to answer)

So there you have it, two useful verbs to say that you want something! So how about it? Do you want to go practice using them now?

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