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?
Express wanting to do something
In Chinese, if you want to express the desire to do something, you can use these two words: 想 (xiǎng) and 要 (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.
As you can see from these examples, 想 and 要 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 想 to express that you want
The other meanings of 想
- It can also mean “to think”
- And “to miss”.
Have you noticed in the examples that although you are able to express your “want” and your opinion with 想, 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 要 instead to say you WANT this.
Expressing “want” with 要
要 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.
Note: In this sentence, “要” 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 要such as 你 要 喝 点 什么？
If you want to say you don't want to do something or don't want something, simply add "不" before 想 or 要... Keep in mind 不 always goes before 想 or 要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 想 or 要 here.
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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