I have seen the words “要”,“想”,and “想要” all being used in similar contexts and I understand that they all mean 'to want/need' something. If I understood correctly, “要” is more frequently used for needing something while “想” can be translated to 'would like'. I am slightly confused on how “想要” is related to both terms and in what situations this can/can't be used as opposed to the other terms.


3 Answers 3


[想 + v] means [want to + v]

[要 + v] can mean either [want to + v], [demand to] or [need to + v]

[想要 + v] means [want to + v] or [attempt to + v]

  • When you want to say "need to" you can only choose "" among the three

  • When you want to say "want to", you can use "要", "想要" or "想"; Using "" makes it unambiguous because it doesn't contain other meanings

  • When you want to say "attempt to" you can only pick "想要" among the three

Note: With a clear context, you can deduct 要 means "want to" or "need to" in most cases


我要去美國 = I want to/need to go to America

我要去美國度假 = I want/demand to go to America for a vacation (going on a vacation is something you want to do in most cases)

我要去美國公幹 = I need to go to America for a business trip (going on a business trip is something you need to do in most cases)

  • Thanks so much, I understand now.
    – Olivia
    Commented Jun 9 at 9:48

The example sentences below may help to clear up the question on the occasion to use each word:

  • 做一個老师 - I want/intend to be a teacher. (wish/desired to be)

  • 做一個老师 - I want/must to be a teacher. (firm/strong desire)

  • 想要做一個老师 - I wish to be a teacher. (modest wish/desired to be)

  • Thanks for the examples, they are really useful!
    – Olivia
    Commented Jun 9 at 9:48
  • You are welcome. Wish you realize that the words "想", "要", and "想要", while all express a desire for something, the mindsets/tunes are quite different - "想" is more of a wishful thought; "要" is an absolute/definite demand; "想要" is a declaration of intention.
    – r13
    Commented Jun 9 at 15:36

What is the difference between want and desire?

The main difference between xiǎng hé yào, when they express desire, lies in the strength of tone (of expression) and the probability of the desired outcome.
Strong or weak tone:
The tone of "xiǎng" is somewhat weak,
(it) expresses (one) has a plan or notion,
but (that plan) must not necessarily come to fruition.
(Whereas) the tone of " yào" (is) comparatively strong
(it) expresses strong aspiration or determination,
(the) plan or intention definitely must come to fruition.

(The) probability (of the) activity (happening):
When (you) use "xiǎng"
(the) probablility of (the) activity is uncertain,
(you) may do it or (you) may not do it.
When you use " yào"
(this) normally expresses (that) the speaker ultimately will act according to his or her aspiration.
Apart from that,
both (words) in (normal) use and negation also have differences:
Use “想”多用于向别人提出请求,
"xiǎng" (is) often used to raise a polite request,
("xiǎng") appears relatively polite and courteous.
" yào" in any situation appears strong and wilful.
Expressing negation
"bùxiǎng" mostly expresses lack of any kind of desire or intention.
"bùyào" on the other hand (is) generally used to dissuade or forbid other people from doing something.
In summary,
" xiǎng hé yào" when used to express an individual's desire,
although both express desire or intention,
however "xiǎng" puts more emphasis on expressing a kind of likelihood of the notion,
and " yào" puts more emphasis on the (strong) probability of determination and activity (in the matter).

"要" 和 "想要" 的差别 就是语气上的差别。
The difference between " yào" and "xiǎngyào" is a (also) difference of tone.
" yào" (when) used in a sentence is imperative,
the tone is more definite, more resolute.
"xiǎngyào" (when) used in a sentence is more tactful, the expression is a kind of wish (or hope).

  • I see, thank you!
    – Olivia
    Commented Jun 9 at 9:48

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