How to Say "Want" or "Desire" in Japanese

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There are many ways to express wants or desire in Japanese depending on the situation. Are you in want of an object or an action? Are you speaking to a superior or a peer? Are you telling a statement or asking a question?

Each scenario will require a different way to express "to want" or "to desire" in Japanese. Let's go through them!

Involving a Noun

When what one desires requires a noun, such as a car or money, "hoshii (to want)" is used. The basic sentence structure is "someone) wa (something) ga hoshii desu." Note that the object of the verb "to want" is marked with the particle "ga", not "o".

Here are some sample sentences:

Watashi wa kuruma ga hoshii desu. 私は車が欲しいです。 --- I want a car.
Watashi wa sono hon ga hoshii desu. 私はその本が欲しいです。 --- I want that book.
Watashi wa nihonjin no tomodachi ga hoshii desu. 私は日本人の友達が欲しいです。 --- I want a Japanese friend.
Watashi wa kamera ga hoshii desu. 私はカメラが欲しいです。 --- I want a camera.

Involving a Verb

There are times when people don't want a material object but instead desire an action, like eating or buying. In such a case, "to want" in Japanese is expressed as "~tai desu". The basic sentence structure is "(someone) wa (something) o ~tai desu."

Here are a few sample sentences:

Watashi wa kuruma o kaitai desu. 私は車を買いたいです。 --- I want to buy a car.
Watashi wa sono hon o yomitai desu. 私はその本を読みたいです。 --- I want to read that book.

When you want to emphasize a subject, the particle "ga" is used instead of "o". For instance, 

Boku wa sushi ga tabetai desu. 僕はすしが食べたいです。 --- I want to eat sushi.

Informal Setting

When speaking in informal situations, "~ desu (~です)" can be omitted. The following are examples of more casual sentences:

Watashi wa okane ga hoshii. 私はお金が欲しい。 --- I want money.
Watashi wa nihon ni ikitai. 私は日本に行きたい。 --- I want to go to Japan.
Watashi wa eigo o benkyou shitai. 私は英語を勉強したい。--- I want to study English.

When to Use ~Tai

Since "~tai" expresses a very personal feeling, it is usually used only for the first person, and in a question for the second person. Note that "~ tai (~たい)" expression is not normally used when asking about the desire of one's superior.

Nani ga tabetai desu ka. 何が食べたいですか。 --- What do you want to eat?
Watashi wa kono eiga ga mitai desu. 私はこの映画がみたいです。 --- I want to watch this movie.
Watashi wa amerika ni ikitai desu. 私はアメリカに行きたいです。 --- I want to go to America.

Third Person

When describing a third person's desire, "hoshigatte imasu (欲しがっています)" or the stem of the verb + "~ tagatte imasu (~たがっています)" are used. Note that the object of "hoshii (ほしい)" is marked with the particle "ga (が)," while the object of "hoshigatte imasu (欲しがっています)" is marked with the particle "o (を)." 

Ani wa kamera o hoshigatte imasu. 兄はカメラを欲しがっています。 --- My brother wants a camera.
Ken wa kono eiga o mitagatte imasu. 健はこの映画を見たがっています。 --- Ken wants to watch this movie.
Tomu wa nihon ni ikitagatte imasu. トムは日本に行きたがっています。 --- Tom wants to go to Japan.

Desire to Have Someone Do Something for You

"Hoshii" is also used to express a desire to have someone do something for him or her. The sentence structure will be "~te (verb te-form) hoshii", and "someone" is marked by the particle "ni".

Here are some examples:

Masako ni sugu byouin ni itte hoshii n desu. 雅子にすぐ病院に言って欲しいんです。 --- I want Masako to go to the hospital right away.
Kore o kare ni todokete hoshii desu ka. これを彼に届けて欲しいですか。 --- Do you want me to deliver this to him?

The same idea can also be expressed by "~ te moraitai".

Watashi wa anata ni hon o yonde moraitai. 私はあなたに本を読んでもらいたい。 --- I want you to read me a book.
Watashi wa Yoko ni unten shite moraitai desu. 私は洋子に運転してもらいたい。 --- I want Yoko to drive.

This pattern can be used when stating one's desire for someone of a higher status to do something. In this case, "itadaku" which is the humble version of "morau" is used.

Watashi wa Tanaka-sensei ni kite itadakitai. 私は田中先生に来ていただきたい。 --- I would like Professor Tanaka to come.
Watashi wa shachou ni kore o tabete itadakitai desu. 私は社長にこれを食べていただきたいです。 --- I want the president to eat this.


Although in English, expressions like "do you want to~" and "don't you want to~" are informal invitations, Japanese questions with "~tai" can't be used to express an invitation when politeness is required. For example, "Watashi to isshoni eiga ni ikitai desu ka" is a straightforward question, asking if one wants to go to a movie with the speaker. It is not meant to be an invitation.

To express an invitation, negative questions are used.

Watashi to isshoni eiga ni ikimasen ka. 私と一緒に映画に行きませんか。 --- Don't you want to go with me?
Ashita tenisu o shimasen ka. 明日テニスをしませんか。 --- Won't you play tennis tomorrow?
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Abe, Namiko. "How to Say "Want" or "Desire" in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Abe, Namiko. (2020, August 27). How to Say "Want" or "Desire" in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "How to Say "Want" or "Desire" in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).