Consider the sentence:


This means "I will go to Beijing". But 要 also means "need". So could this sentence also be translated as "I need to go to Beijing"? How would you make the distinction between the two intended meanings in Chinese?

  • There is also the 原来你什么都不想要, (title from a popular Mandarin song) So, why 都不想要 rather than 都不要? What is the 想 doing there? I would like to hear from people here? – Wayne Cheah Dec 5 '19 at 4:42

For translating...

All of these are possible in a given context:

version 1: I want to go to Beijing
version 2: I need to go to Beijing
version 3: I am going to Beijing

The relevant grammar structure is:

Subj. + 要 + Verb + Obj.
Wanting to do something with "yao"

The Chinese Grammar Wiki page Auxiliary verb "yao" and its multiple meanings gives three meanings of 要 as a verb: (a) "Want to", (b) "Need to", (c) "Going to", and the 要 in 我要去北京 could mean any of these. So...

... To figure out what is intended, you need to use context. How urgent is the situation? Is it likely to be something the speaker really wants to do? Is it something that's totally going to happen, regardless of anyone's preference? ...
Auxiliary verb "yao" and its multiple meanings

The relevant words in both Chinese and English are ambiguous, so it's sometimes impossible to consider any translation as definitively "correct" even given the context. Chinese evolved over thousands of years, and was not designed with (the comparatively young language) English in mind.

Imagine a scenario where your boss requires you to go to Beijing ("need to"), but you've always wanted to go to Beijing ("want to"). On the way to the airport ("going to"), you might chat with the taxi driver and say 我要去北京. Which translation is correct? All of them!

For speaking Chinese...

If your purpose is to speak Chinese, I feel it's simplest to just think of all three of these as a strong form of "want" (so strong, you might be in the process of doing it), and ignore the English words. In this case:

I want to go to Beijing
[it will happen unless something unforeseen occurs; I may even be half-way to Beijing already]

Why? It's a simplification. There are multiple mismatches between the English and Chinese. For example:

为什么人类需要氧气才能生存? (source)
Why does mankind need Oxygen to be able to survive?

We cannot use 要 in place of 需要 here.


  • 要 sometimes means "want to", and "want to" sometimes means 要;
  • 要 sometimes means "need to", and "need to" sometimes means 要; and
  • 要 sometimes means "going to", and "going to" sometimes means 要.

If you don't want to work out what all those six (possibly overlapping) "sometimes" mean, then I suggest going with: a strong form of "want".

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goes for 将要 or 需要, which indicates will or need.

Normally, 将要 + verb and 需要 + noun.

For distinction, the sentence 我要去北京 goes like this:

  • 我(将)要去北京(了), which indicates 去北京 an action
  • 我(需)要去北京(一趟), which indicates 去北京 an adj and 去北京一趟 a noun

If the tone or the circumstances indicate "I need to go to Beijing (to)", that is only half of the sentence in Chinese, I will ask "to do what". While if it is "I will go to Beijing", the question I will ask is "When". But it is ambiguous indeed without explanation.

Anyway, to be honest, if someone literally says 我要去北京
The point is 北京, not , as all roads lead to Rome.

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This isn't really an answer to your question but is still relevant, I pulled this straight from the Chinese Grammar Wiki:

enter image description here

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Again, look here, scroll down, find example sentences and many meanings.

An important use of 要 is as 'if':

(1) 表示假设,相当于“如果”、“倘若” [if;suppose;in case]。如:要得(若要);要不价(否则;要不然)

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Both are possible and legit. Maybe the context would tell.


我不要在家等着, 我要去北京探探情况.

I don't want to sit and wait; I need to go to Beijing to check.

我这几天不在, 我明天要去北京

I will be out of town these days. I will go to Beijing tomorrow.

P.S. These "examples" may not be well-crafted, but I think I basically made my point.

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