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Chinese Lesson: How to Express Desires and Needs
When it comes to physical or material desires, the two verbs you can choose between are 要 and 想要. Here’s how to distinguish between the two.
Use 要 to be direct or when you want something immediately.
Every time you’re shopping, ordering food or simply stating an object desire in conversation, that’s when you’d use 要.
Here are a few examples:
他要一瓶啤酒。(tā yào yī píng píjiǔ.) — He wants a (bottle of) beer.
我要一杯拿铁。(wǒ yào yībēi ná tiě.) — I want a (cup of) latte.
她要蓝色的裙子。(tā yào lán sè de qúnzi.) — She wants the blue dress.
Although “I want” statements can seem rather demanding, it’s not actually considered rude in China.
To negate the above statements, add 不 (bù) meaning “no.” Thus, “I don’t want…” in Chinese would be 我不要… (wǒ bú yào…).
Use 想要 to be more polite.

If you want to be more polite when expressing your wants, you may use 想要. This is the equivalent of saying, “I’d like” rather than, “I want.”
他想要一瓶啤酒。(tā xiǎng yào yī píng píjiǔ.) — He’d like a (bottle of) beer.
我想要一杯拿铁。(wǒ xiǎng yào yībēi ná tiě.) — I’d like a (cup of) latte.
她想要蓝色的裙子。(tā xiǎng yào lán sè de qúnzi.) — She’d like the blue dress.
Now let’s move on to abstract wants or desired actions. For this category, you’d use either 想 or 要.
Use 想 to discuss future plans.
Has the topic of hopes and dreams come up in conversation? Whether you’re talking about goals for the future or plans for the evening, 想 is the right word to use. In the context of desires, 想 can mean “I want” or “I’d like.”
我想去马尔代夫。(wǒ xiǎng qù mǎ’ěrdàifū.) — I want to go to the Maldives.
妈妈想吃四川菜。(māma xiǎng chī sìchuān cài.) — Mom would like to eat Sichuan food.
他想在新西兰工作。(tā xiǎng zài xīnxīlán gōngzuò.) — He wants to work in New Zealand.
These statements can also be negated with 不 (meaning “no”). So, “Mom doesn’t want to eat Sichuan food” in Chinese would be 妈妈不想吃四川菜 (māma bùxiǎng chī sìchuān cài).
Use 要 when you need immediate action.
If you want something to happen right away, 要 offers a sense of immediacy.
我现在要买。(wǒ xiànzài yào mǎi.) — I want to buy it now.
You’d also use it when you’re speaking to a taxi driver.
我们要去火车站。(wǒmen yào qù huǒchē zhàn.) — We want to go to the train station.
Like 想, 要 can also be used to talk about plans in the immediate future. In this case, it can be translated as “going to” rather than “want.”
Expressing Necessity in Chinese
Talking about your needs is much simpler than discussing your wants in Chinese since the words for “to need” aren’t as conditional as the verbs above.
Whether you need a material object or require some kind of action, these are some of the verbs you can use to describe such sentiments.
需 (xū) — to need, to require
需要 (xūyào) — to demand, to need, to require
必须 (bì xū) — to have to, must
得 (děi) — to have to, to ought to, to need to, must
Here are a couple of sentences to give you an idea of how to use these verbs:
我需要喂猫。(wǒ xūyào wèi māo.) — I need to feed the cat.
你得去医院。(nǐ dé qù yīyuàn) — You have to go to the hospital.
If the matter is pressing, another word you can use is 急需 (jíxū), meaning “to urgently need.” So, if you want to say, “I urgently need cash,” in Chinese it’d be, 我急需现金 (wǒ jíxū xiànjīn).
Like with 要 and 想, the words for need can also be negated with 不.
In case you’d like to expand your vocab and learn all the various ways of saying, “I don’t need” in Chinese, check out this list: