Comparing "yao" and "xiang"
Both 要 (yào) and 想 (xiǎng) can essentially mean "want," but they can also be used in quite different ways, such as 想 (xiǎng) also meaning "to miss" when followed by a noun, and 要 (yào) also meaning "going to (do something)."
- 1 Followed by a Noun
- 2 Followed by a Verb
- 3 想要 (xiǎngyào) as "Want"
- 4 See also
- 5 Sources and further reading
Followed by a Noun
Both 要 (yào) and 想 (xiǎng) may be followed by nouns, but pay attention to how the meaning of 想 (xiǎng) totally changes when used this way.
要 (yào) as "to Want"
In this pattern, 要 (yào) is directly followed by a thing (a noun), rather than by a verb. It is often used to buy something, or to order food at a restaurant.
It may be helpful to imagine a demanding child using this pattern to get stuff from his parents. This "I want x!" pattern can seem slightly impolite, but to the Chinese ear it's not as inherently rude as it may seem when translated directly into English. Tone of voice plays a key role when using this pattern in spoken Chinese.
Subj. + 要 + Noun
- 你 也 要 茶 吗？ordering in a restaurantDo you also want tea?
- 我们 都 要 咖啡。ordering in a cafeWe all want coffee.
- 大家 要 不 要 米饭？ordering in a restaurantDoes everyone want rice?
- 你们 要 冰水 还是 热水？ordering in a restaurantDo you want ice water or hot water?
- 谢谢，我 什么 都 不 要。ordering in a restaurantThank you. I don't need anything.
想 (xiǎng) as "to Miss"
Pay attention here: unlike "想 (xiǎng) + Verb," the meaning of 想 (xiǎng) in the "想 (xiǎng) + Noun" pattern becomes "to miss."
Subj. + 想 + Noun
- 我 想 你。I miss you.
- 我 有点 想 我 的 家人。I sort of miss my family.
- 你们 回 美国 以后， 会 想 中国菜 吗？Will you all miss Chinese food after you go back to the U.S.?
- 你女朋友 不 在 的时候，你 会 想 她 吗？Do you miss your girlfriend when she is not around?
- 妈妈 打 电话 的 时候 跟 我 说， 她 很 想 我。Mom called me and said she misses me a lot.
Followed by a Verb
要 (yào) and 想 (xiǎng) have similar meanings when followed by verbs. The difference is rather subtle, but 要 (yào) can sound more urgent or demanding (sometimes even childish), while 想 (xiǎng) is usually a bit more mature and polite. Tone of voice plays a big role here as well, though, so don't be afraid of offending people by using 要 (yào); the word itself isn't rude.
要 (yào) as "Want to"
It might help to think of 要 (yào) in this sense as meaning "want to" and 想 (xiǎng) as meaning "would like to."
Subj. + 要 + Verb
- 我 要 休息 。I want to rest.
- 你 也 要 回家 吗 ？Do you also want to go home?
- 你们 要 喝 什么 ？What do you want to drink?
- 我 要 帮 老板 做 完 这些 工作 。I want to help the boss finish this work.
- 大家 晚上 要 不 要 出去 吃 ？Does everyone want to go out to eat tonight?
想 (xiǎng) as "Would Like to"
It might help to think of 想 (xiǎng) as meaning "would like to" instead of "want to." In English, as well, "would like to" feels more indirect, and thus less demanding and more more polite.
Subj. + 想 + Verb
- 你 想 去 吗 ？Would you like to go?
- 我 不 想 见 她 。I wouldn't like to see her.
- 周末 你们 想 看 电影 吗 ？Would you like to see a movie this weekend?
- 我 想 请 你 吃饭 。I'd like to treat you to dinner.
- 他们 春节 不 想 回家 吗 ？Don't they want to go back home for Spring Festival?
要 (yào) as "Going to"
要 is used to indicate plans for the near future, much like "going to" in English. 想 (xiǎng) is not used in this way.
Subj. + 要 + Verb
- 星期六 我 要 去 北京。I'm going to Beijing on Saturday.
- 下 个 月 她 要 找 新 工作。She is going to look for a new job next month.
- 这个 周末 你们 要 出去 玩 吗？Are you going out partying this weekend?
- 结婚 以后，你 要 跟 父母 住 在 一起 吗？Are you going to live together with your parents after you get married?
- 生 完 孩子 以后，你 太太 要 回去 工作 吗？Is your wife going back to work after she finishes giving birth to the baby?
想要 (xiǎngyào) as "Want"
You can put 要 (yào) and 想 (xiǎng) together to make the word 想要 (xiǎngyào), which means "to want." You can put either nouns or verbs after it.
Subj. + 想要 + Noun / Verb
- 你 想要 几 个 孩子 ？How many kids do you want to have?
- 我 老婆 总是 想要 最 贵 的 包。My wife always wants the most expensive bags.
- 她 想要 找 一 个 有钱 的 男朋友 。She wants to find a rich boyfriend.
- 你们 为什么 想要 离开 北京 ？Why do you all want to leave Beijing?
- 他 想要 帮 你 找 一 个 更好 的 工作。He wants to help you find a better job.
- Wanting to do something with yao
- "Would like to" with xiang
- Auxiliary verb "yao" and its multiple meanings
- Negative commands with "bu yao"
- Expressing determination with "feiyao"