How to Say “I Want To” in Japanese: Use ~たいです(~Tai Desu)

How do you say, “I want” in Japanese — or express desire? Wanting to do something is natural. Saying it in Japanese, on the other hand, might not be so natural at first. However, with a bit of practice, using the Japanese grammar point ~たい to say you want to do something, can become as easy as breathing. 

Be careful, though, as saying what others want to do requires different grammar (〜たがる). There is also a different Japanese grammar point for just wanting something (~ほしい),  instead of wanting to do something. You might be starting to see a pattern here, but there’s a separate grammar point for saying what somebody else wants, too (ほしがる). 

Before that, make sure you’ve reviewed our guide to hiragana and katakana — the two most basic Japanese writing systems — because we’ll use them in this article!

Contents

How to Say “I Want to” in Japanese: Forming たい

To make this grammar point, cut the ます from the ます form of verbs and add たい.

EnglishDictionary Formます form (polite)たい form
To eat食べる食べます食べたい
To see見るます見たい
To buy買う買います買いたい
To go行く行きます行きたい
To doするしますしたい

ラーメンを食べたいです。 
Raamen o tabetai desu.
I want to eat ramen. 

In casual interactions, you can ditch the です after たい statements, but don’t forget it in more formal situations. 

えいがを見たい。
Eiga o mitai.
I want to watch a/the movie.

かばんを買いたい。
Kaban o kaitai.
I want to buy a/the bag. 

You will note that these sentences don’t have a subject, which is typical in Japanese, where the subject is usually implied. In addition, since たい is used to express only what the speaker wants to do, an explicit subject is not necessary. 

東京へ行きたいです。
Toukyou e ikitai desu.
I want to go to Tokyo. 

While in English, it’s alright to use the same grammar to say what somebody else wants to do, it is not okay in Japanese. So the sentence below would be accurate. 

田中さんはラーメンを食べたいです。
Tanaka san wa raamen o tabetai desu.
Tanaka wants to eat ramen. 

One way to still use the たい (tai) form to express someone else’s needs and want would be adding そう (sou) to relay indirectly their desire as it adds the meaning of “appears to be” in the statement.

田中さんはラーメンを食べたいそうです。
Tanaka san wa raamen o tabetai sou desu.
It appears Tanaka wants to eat ramen. 

How to Say “I Don’t Want to” in Japanese: Negative of たい

So far, we’ve looked at how to make affirmative statements using the たい form. But since there are undoubtedly times when we don’t want to do something, there’s a way to say that in Japanese. 

Making the negative form involves removing the ます from the ます form of verbs and adding たくない.

Dictionary Formます form (polite)ーたくない
食べる食べます食べたくない
見るます見たくない
買う買います買いたくない
行く行きます行きたくない
するしますしたくない

ラーメンを食べたくないです。
Raamen o tabetakunai desu.
I don’t want to eat ramen. 

Again, note that the subject of these sentences is understood to be the speaker. 

えいがを見たくないです。
Eiga o mitakunai desu.
I don’t want to watch a/the movie.

かばんを買いたくないです。
Kaban o kaitakunai desu.
I don’t want to buy a/the bag. 

東京へ行きたくないです。
Toukyou e ikitakunai desu.
I don’t want to go to Tokyo. 

“I Wanted To” in Japanese: Past Affirmative of たい Form

To say you wanted to do something, you’ll need the past affirmative or positive of the たい form. This is formed by again cutting the ます from the polite form and adding たかった.

Dictionary Formます form (polite)ーたかった 
食べる食べます食べたかった
見るます見たかった
買う買います買いたかった
行く行きます行きたかった
するしますしたかった

If you wanted to do something, and happily did it or unfortunately, didn’t get a chance to do it, whatever the case, you can use this Japanese grammar point. Depending on the situation and emotions at play, you can throw in a few more grammar points and certainly more vocabulary to bolster your statements. 

ラーメンを食べたかったです。 
Raamen o tabetakatta desu.
I wanted to eat ramen. 

えいがを見たかったです。
Eiga o mitakatta desu.
I wanted to watch a/the movie.

かばんを買いたかったです。
Kaban o kaitakatta desu.
I wanted to buy a/the bag. 

東京へ行きたかったです。
Toukyou e ikitakatta desu.
I wanted to go to Tokyo. 

“I Didn’t Want to” in Japanese: Past negative of たい form

Whether you didn’t do something because you simply did not want to do it, or you inadvertently did something you didn’t want to do, the past negative form of たい will help you express it. 

The past negative is made by cutting the ます from the polite form and adding たくなかった.

Dictionary Formます form (polite)ーたくなかった
食べる食べます食べたくなかった
見るます見たくなかった
買う買います買いたくなかった
行く行きます行きたくなかった
するしますしたくなかった

ラーメンを食べたくなかったです。
Raamen o tabetakunakatta desu.
I didn’t want to eat ramen. 

Note that in both the affirmative and negative past, it is the たい form that expresses that the speaker is referring to the past. The です remains as is. If you feel like delving a bit more into the past tense of Japanese verbs, here’s a good place to start

えいがを見たくなかったです。
Eiga o mitakunakatta desu.
I didn’t want to watch a/the movie.

“Do You Want To?” in Japanese: たい Questions 

Making questions using this Japanese grammar point can take two main forms. The first one uses essential Japanese question phrases: what (nani), where (doko), who (dare), why (naze) and which (dore). Asking a question in Japanese is very easy: you simply need to add the particle か at the end of a declarative sentence 

何をしたいですか。
Nani o shitai desu ka.
What do you want to do?

いつラーメンを食べたいですか。
Itsu raamen o tabetai desu ka.
When do you want to eat ramen?

なぜ映画を見たいのですか。
Naze eiga o mitai no desu ka
Why do you want to watch that movie?

どこへ行きたいですか。
Doko e ikitai desu ka.
Where do you want to go?

The other way to make questions is to recast or check what someone has said. Or simply to check if they want to do something. 

Let’s say you’ve asked your lunch date what they feel like having, but they can’t seem to make up their mind. You notice, though, that they keep looking at menus outside all the ramen shops you pass. You might try asking, ラーメンを食べたいですか?

How to Express What Someone Else Wants: – たがる

We can use たい to say what the speaker wants to refer to what a second person in the conversation might want to do. But when we want to talk about what a third party wants to do, we use たがる.

This is made by dropping the ます from the polite form and adding たがる.

Dictionary Formます form (polite)たがる
食べる食べます食べたがる
見るます見たがる
買う買います買いたがる
行く行きます行きたがる
するしますしたがる

It is important to note that in conversation, the continuous たがっている is often used to express what somebody else wants to do. 

友達がラーメンを食べたがっている。
Tomodachi ga raamen o tabetagatte iru.
My friend wants to eat ramen. 

子どもがテレビを見たがっている。
Kodomo ga terebi o mitagatteiru.
My children want to watch TV.

クラスメイトが嵐のライブへ行きたがっている。 
Kurasumeito ga arashi no raibu e ikitagatteiru.
My classmate wants to go to an Arashi concert. 

ほしい: How to Say You Want Something

This entire time, we’ve been learning how to say “I want” when you want to do something, which requires an action verb. Now, let’s take a look at how to say you simply want something. For that, you’re going to need ほしい/欲しい.

Forming phrases using this grammar point is pretty straightforward: Noun+ が ほしい

大きいテレビが欲しいです。
Ooki terebi ga hoshii desu.
I want a big TV.

新しいパソコンが欲しいです。
Atarashii pasokon ga hoshii desu.
I want a new computer. 

Quick Note on Japanese Particles

You’ll notice that with ~たい phrases, the particle を is used. With 〜欲しい phrases, the particle が is used. 

ラーメンを食べたいです。
I want to eat ramen.

ラーメンが欲しいです。   
I want ramen.

Check out this article for more info on using 欲しい. The article also explains how use ~て欲しい to express a request of someone else. 

Saying What a Third Party Wants Using ほしがる

欲しい is used for what (noun) the speaker or a second person in the conversation might want. However, it cannot be used to refer to what a third party wants. 欲しがる is used for this purpose. 

彼は大きいテレビを欲しがっています
Kare wa ookii terebi o hoshigatte imasu.
He wants a big TV.

彼女は新しいパソコンを欲しがっています。
Kanojo wa atarashii pasokon o hoshigatte imasu.
I want a new computer. 

Note that the particle o is used with 欲しがる statements. 

Conclusion

In Japanese grammar, adding たい to the masu-stem of verbs expresses what the speaker wants to do. However, for referencing what a third party wants to do, たがる is used. At the same time, there is a different Japanese grammar point for simply wanting something (a noun); that’s 欲しい. And finally, 欲しがる is used to express what a third party wants (a noun). 

And there you have it! With practice, it will be easy for you to say “I want” in Japanese! However, learning the grammar point isn’t enough. You need to know the verbs and vocabulary. Our learning blog contains all the essential resources about Japanese language life and culture, so check them out! If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo, find out more about our school by filling out our contact form!

Can I use this "tai desu" grammar in writing and speaking?

Yes, this grammar point can be used in many situations as well. You’ll just have to adjust your endings and so on to reflect the desired level of formality. 

What level of the JLPT is ~たいです?

This is N5 grammar, but it will still likely take a lot of practice to use all aspects fluently. 

What if I mistakenly use たい instead of たがる when talking about what somebody else wants to do?

If you do, then it’s just a mistake. People you’re talking to will most likely understand you based on the context, or they might give you a chance to correct your mistake.

What is the difference between たい, 欲しい and たがる?

In Japanese grammar, adding たい to the masu-stem of verbs expresses what the speaker wants to do. However, for referencing what a third party wants to do, たがる is used. At the same time, there is a different Japanese grammar point for simply wanting something (a noun); that’s 欲しい. And finally, 欲しがる is used to express what a third party wants (a noun). 


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