要 yào or 想 xiǎng?

The words 要 yào and 想 xiǎng are both modal words that express desires and necessities. Most of the time we can apply them in a similar way as in English, but there are some small differences and, sometimes, it can be quite nerve-racking to decide when to use which.

The word 想 xiǎng

This word is quite close to the meaning of “want to…” or “would like to…” in English, for example:

今天       晚上          我          吃   饺子。
Jīntiān wǎnshàng wǒ xiǎng chī jiǎozi.
(Tonight i want to eat Chinese dumplings for dinner)

这    个   周    末  你   想      去   爬山   吗 ?
Zhè gè zhōu mò nǐ xiǎng qù páshān ma?
(Do you want to go hiking this weekend?)

Be careful,  needs to precede a verb, if it is followed by a noun the meaning changes to “miss someone” (well, you can always miss a good plate of Chinese jiaozi, if it was that good).

Here are some other meanings of the word xiǎng:

DefinitionExamples
to think这    个  问题    我   想     一     想
Zhè gè wèntí wǒ xiǎng yī xiǎng.
(I will think about this question)
to estimate我          他   可能       病   了。
xiǎng tā kěnéng bìng le.
(I think he is sick)
to miss我    想       你。
xiǎng nǐ.
(I miss you)

The word 要 yào

The word 要 yào is similar to 想 xiǎng; sometimes they are interchangeable, but more specifically we use 要 yàoin these following situations:

  • Prior Plan

When we have already decided what we are going to do in the future. The meaning is quite close to “be going to” in English, 

我     现在     要    回  家。
Wǒ xiànzài yào huí jiā.
(I am going home now)

一会儿   我     和  一 个  朋友     见面。
Yī huìr wǒ yào hé yī gè péngyǒu jiànmiàn.
(I am seeing a friend later)
  • Signs/ Evidence

When there are signs that something is likely to happen, but there is also a sense of urgency implied, like something is going to happen relatively soon from the speaker’s perspective.

马上          要   下 雨 了。
Mǎshàng yào xià yǔ le.
(It is going to rain soon)

我   女儿    明年        要   毕业 了。
Wǒ nǚér míngnián yào bìyè le.
(My daughter will graduate next year)

Note: There is another word, 会 huì, that has a similar function, but it is more close to “will“. We can use both 会 and 要 to make predictions, but the tone of 会 is more objective, there is clear sign or according to logic something is going to happen, while 要 in some sense implies the speaker’s own will or his certainty about the mentioned issue.

不   用      担心,我    会    帮    你。
Bú yòng dānxīn ,wǒ huì bāng nǐ.
(Don’t worry, i will help you)

不    用     担心,我    要     帮    你。
Bú yòng dānxīn ,wǒ yào bāng nǐ.

In the second sentence the tone is quite strong, it is almost like saying “I am going to help you and I won’t take a no for an answer”. The first sentence is much more accurate with the tone, and that is what we would commonly say.

  • Ordering in shops or restaurants

It is very common when you order food in restaurants to say: “老板,我要… Lǎobǎn, wǒ yào…“.

The word can also work in informal situations as “ would like/want”. If it is with a friend and maybe you are good buddies and you want to offer him something to drink you could ask “你要喝点什么?Nǐ yào hē diǎn shénme?“. Or in a restaurant, as we said before (since you can demand things the way you want, because… clients are god?). What I mean is that in these situations using is perfectly appropriate, however if you are asking a favor or inviting someone, using the word is much more polite.

老板,     我      一    碗       炸酱        面。
Lǎobǎn, wǒ yào yī wǎn zhàjiàng miàn.
(Boss, i want a bowl of Zhajiang noodles)

我     想      问     你 一 个 事儿。
xiǎng wèn nǐ yī gè shìr.
(I would like to ask you something)

你         去   看        电影       吗?
xiǎng qù kàn diànyǐng ma ?
(Do you want to go and see a movie?)
  • Giving suggestions

This is also one of the importance differences the word has, we can use it to give suggestions.

你       生病        了, 要     多      休息。
Nǐ shēngbìng le ,yào duō xiūxī.
(You are sick, you should rest more)

你   不   要    玩      手机  了,  对    眼睛     不   好。
bú yào wán shǒujī le ,duì yǎnjīng bù hǎo.
(Don’t play anymore the phone, it is bad for your eyes)

So… In conclusion, when it comes to your personal plan, you can choose 要or 想, depending how big the urge is. If you are asking other people what they want, 要 is for informal situations, and it is always nicer to use 想, since it is more polite.

Hope this article helps you on the journey to improve your Chinese!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.