Auxiliary verb "yao" and its multiple meanings

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Level A2
Is similar to
Is used for Referring to the future, Expressing determination, Expressing desires
Keywords
Translations want, need, go, will

You probably already know the basic meaning of 要 (yào) as "to want." It's actually a quite versatile word, though, and can also take on the meanings of "to need" as well as "will (do something)." In every case, context is crucial for figuring out which meaning someone is trying to express.

要 as "want"

This structure could be used ordering food in a restaurant or a shop. So it's used for saying that you want something.

Structure

Subject + 要 + Noun

Examples

  • 一 杯 水 。 yào yī bēi shuǐ. I want a cup of water.
  • 一 份 牛排 。 yào yī fèn niú pái. I want a steak.
  • 一 杯 咖啡 。 yào yī bēi kāfēi. I want a cup of coffee.
  • 一 个 面包 。 yào yī gè miànbāo. I want bread.
  • 冰 的 可乐 。 yào bīng de kělè. I want coke with ice.
  • 热 牛奶 吗 ? yào rè niúnǎi ma? Do you want warm milk?
  • 一点 糖 。 yào yīdiǎn táng. I want some sweets.
  • 两 份 鸡 肉 。 yào liǎng fèn jī ròu. I want two pieces of Chicken.
  • 法国 红 酒 。 yào Fǎguó hóng jiǔ. I want French wine.
  • 苹果 汁 。 yào píngguǒ zhī. I want apple juice.

要 as "want to"

In Chinese, 要 (yào) can mean "want to" (similar to (xiǎng)), but its tone is quite firm. So it's used for saying that you want to do something.

Structure

Subject + 要 + Verb

Examples

  • 吃 巧克力 。 yào chī qiǎokèlì. I want to eat chocolate.
  • 跟 你 一起 去 。 yào gēn nǐ yīqǐ qù. I want to go with you.
  • 吃 西餐 。 yào chī xīcān. I want to eat western food.
  • 学 中文 。 yào xué Zhōngwén. I want to study Chinese.
  • 去 泰国 。 yào qù Tàiguó. I want to go to Thailand.
  • 买 一 个 新 手机 。 yào mǎi yī gè xīn shǒujī. I want to buy a new cell phone.
  • 工作 。 yào gōngzuò. I want to work.
  • 打 电话 。 yào dǎ diànhuà. I want to make a phone call.
  • 见 他 。 yào jiàn tā. I want to see him.
  • 试 一下 。 yào shì yīxià. I want to try.

要 as "need to"

If you crank the urgency of "to want" up a few notches, you get "to need." The two meanings overlap, creating a fuzzy, "needy" gray area.

Structure

Same structure here.

Subject + 要 + Verb

Examples

  • 明天 我们 上班 。 (logically, most people don't really WANT to work)Míngtiān wǒmen yào shàngbān. We need to work tomorrow.
  • 现在 付钱 。 (No one WANTS to pay, right?)yào xiànzài fùqián. You need to pay now.
  • 我们 买 很 多 酒 。 Wǒmen yào mǎi hěn duō jiǔ. We need to buy a lot of wine.
  • 休息 一 下 。 yào xiūxi yī xià. We need to rest for a while.
  • 找 一 个 中文 老师 。 yào zhǎo yī gè Zhōngwén lǎoshī. You need to find a Chinese teacher.
  • 今天 很 忙 , 我 加班 。 Jīntiān hěn máng, wǒ yào jiābān. Today is very busy, so I need to work overtime.
  • 多 吃 点 水果 。 yào duō chī diǎn shuǐguǒ. You need to eat a lot of fruit.
  • 学 会 用 电脑 。 yào xué huì yòng diànnǎo. You need to use the computer while you study.
  • 明天 下雨 , 你 带 雨伞 。 Míngtiān xiàyǔ, nǐ yào dài yǔsǎn. It will rain tomorrow, you need to bring an umbrella.

要 as "going to"

This use of 要 (yào) is like "going to" (similar to (huì)).

Structure

Again, no change to the structure here, but it often includes a mention of a time when something is going to happen.

Subject + 要 + Verb

If you want to know more about the related pattern "要...了" (yào... le), please see about to happen with "kuai... le".

Examples

  • 明年 我 去 中国 。 (Notice the use of a time word for the future)Míngnián wǒ yào qù Zhōngguó. Next year I am going to go to China.
  • 明天 我 去 北京 。 (This could also mean "need," depending on context)Míngtiān wǒ yào qù Běijīng. I am going to go to Beijing tomorrow.
  • 星期五 我们 开会 。 Xīngqīwǔ wǒmen yào kāihuì. We are going to have a meeting on friday.
  • 12 点 我 去 吃饭 。 12 diǎn wǒ yào qù chīfàn. I am going to go out and eat at 12 o'clock.
  • 2014年 , 我 去 中国 工作 。 Nián, wǒ yào qù Zhōngguó gōngzuò. In 2014 I am going to go to China to work.
  • 一会儿 我 出去 。 Yīhuìr wǒ yào chūqù. I am going to leave soon.
  • 认识 很 多 中国 朋友 。 yào rènshi hěn duō Zhōngguó péngyǒu. I am going to get to know lots of Chinese friends.
  • 做 咖啡 , 你 喝 吗 ? yào zuò kāfēi, nǐ hē ma? I am going so make some coffee, do you want some?
  • 找 新 的 工作 。 yào zhǎo xīn de gōngzuò. I am going to find a new job.
  • 每天 运动 。 yào měitiān yùn dòng. I need to exercise every day.

Context, context, context

You may have noticed that the meanings can easily overlap. 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 preferences? Most often, a little background knowledge and some common sense are all you need to figure it out. But you definitely need to be aware of the different possible meanings listed above.

See also

Sources and further reading

Books