If you have a hard time telling the difference between 想(xiǎnɡ) and 要(yào) and do not want to read articles full of academic terms, then you are in the right place now. Don’t worry; you got covered with straightforward tips and practical examples from GoEast.
想(xiǎng) and 要(yào) can be used interchangeably with some subtle differences, and they also have their own unique meanings and usages.
For advanced learners, we also add two extension words for you: 想要(xiǎngyào) and 要想(yàoxiǎng).
And do not forget to read until the end to try some exercises so you know if you really understand their differences.
想(xiǎng) and 要(yào) + to do something
Tip 1: 要(yào) sounds a stronger urge while 想(xiǎng) is more reserved
I bet that 想xiǎnɡ and 要yào have left a great impression on you when referring them to ‘want to, would like to’ since the first time you met these two characters in your Chinese class. Indeed, they have no big difference when meaning ‘want ’; For instance,
Wǒ xiǎnɡ/yào shuìjiào.
I want to go to sleep.
Tāmen xiǎnɡ/yào qù Zhōngguó de Hǎinán dǎo lǚxínɡ.
They want to travel to Hainan island in China.
Nǐmen xiǎnɡ/yào hē kāfēi ma?
Do you guys want to drink coffee?
The subtle difference is 要(yào) is more stronger or demanding, sometimes even throwing a bit of temper, usually can be translated to “really want”; while 想(xiǎng) is more reserved and polite, thus sometimes translating into “would like”. Compare the voices of tones and emotions in the following sentences:
我困了，我想睡觉。下线了啊。 ( pretty calm)
Wǒ kùn le ,wǒ xiǎng shuì jiào . Xià xiàn le a.
It is 11 o’clock, I would like to go to sleep.I am going offline!
为了这个ppt，我已经3天没有好好睡觉了，我要睡觉！我要睡觉！(Can you feel the strong urge for sleeping here? )
Wèile zhège ppt, wǒ yǐjīng 3 tiān méiyǒu hǎohǎo shuìjiàole, wǒ yào shuìjiào! Wǒ yào shuìjiào!
Because of this presentation, I haven’t slept well for 3 days. I really want to go to sleep! I really want to go to sleep!
Tip 2: You can use “degree words” like “很(hěn), 有点儿(yǒudiǎnr)” before 想(xiǎng), but not before 要(yào)
As we mentioned above that “要(yào)” is so strong for the demand, so it doesn’t need any words or phrases to description how much you actually want it. Therefore, we can say:
Tāmen hěn xiǎnɡ qù Zhōngguó de Hǎinán dǎo lǚxínɡ.
They really want to travel to Hainan island in China.
but not with 要(yào)：
Tāmen hěn yào qù Zhōngguó de Hǎinán dǎo lǚxínɡ.
Similar words are like: words meaning “extremely” like 特别(tèbié)，尤其(yǒuqí)，极其(jíqí)，格外(géwài)； meaning “a little bit” like 有点儿(yǒudiǎnr)，有些(yǒuxiē).
Tip 3: 要(yào) has the meaning of “going to, plan to”, while 想(xiǎng) has no such usage
Try to understand the following conversations: Jack has a crush on Rose and trying to invite her to his birthday party, while Rose has no interest at all. Read and see how Rose turned him down using “要yào”.
Xīngqítiān nǐ kěyǐ lái cānjiā wǒ de shēngrì jùhuì ma?
Bù hǎoyìsi, xīngqítiān wǒ xiǎng qù kàn diànyǐng.
Āiyā, wǒ de yìsi shì wǒ yào qù kàn diànyǐng, wǒ yǐjīng mǎihǎo piàole,“Afándá 2”, hěn guì de!
Zhèyàng a, nà hǎo ba.
Tip 4: You can use “possibility words” like “一定(yídìng)、可能(kěnéng)” before 要(yào)
For the “going to, plan to “meaning, you can also use words like: 一定(yídìng)，肯定(kěndìng)，必须(bìxū) meaning “must, 100%, or 可能(kěnéng, maybe) in front of it, to show how decisive or possible it is.
Míngnián wǒ yīdìng yào qù Zhōngguó yóuxué.
I surly will go to China for a study tour next year.
想(xiǎng) and 要(yào) + something
When you see 想(xiǎnɡ) and 要(yào) followed by something, you need to pay special attention, because they mean totally different things.
Tip 5: 想(xiǎnɡ) + something: think of something
Wánɡ lǎoshī, nín zài xiǎnɡ shénme?
Wǒ zài xiǎnɡ míngtiān de kètánɡ huódònɡ.
Q: Ms.Wang, what are you thinking about?
A: I’m thinking about the in-class activity for tomorrow.
Tips 6: 要(yào) + something: used when you order food, shopping or make a demand.
Nǐhǎo, wǒ yào niúròumiàn.
Hello, I want some beef noodles.
Wǒ yào yìbēi pínɡguǒzhī.
I want a cup of apple juice.
想(xiǎng) + somebody
想(xiǎnɡ) followed by a person has a pretty romantic meaning: miss somebody. And you do not want to use 要(yào) here at all.
Suīrán cái fèn kāi 1 gè xiǎoshí, dànshì wǒ yǐjīng xiǎng nǐle.
Although we have been separated for only 1 hour, but I have already started missing you.
Extension One: When 想xiǎnɡ and 要yào combined into 想要(xiǎngyào)
When想xiǎnɡ and 要yào combined as one word想要 xiǎnɡyào, it becomes very flexible, because it means ‘want to, would like to,’ ‘want,’ and ‘is going to, plan to,’ which makes it easier for you to put either some actions or something afterward. Examples are:
想要xiǎnɡyào + to do something
Zhè jiā gōnɡsi jīnnián xiǎnɡyào jǔxínɡ shènɡdàn wǎnhuì.
This company is going to hold a Christmas party this year.
Wǒ xiǎnɡyào yígè jīròu sānmínɡzhì.
I want to buy a chicken sandwich.
Extension Two: 要想 (yàoxiǎnɡ)
要想(yàoxiǎng) is a colloquial phrase, short form “要是想(yàoshì xiǎng)”, which is similar to “如果想(rúguó xiǎng)”, which means “if want to do something”.
The most famous sentences for using this phrase are two old sayings:
Yào xiǎng rén bùzhī, chúfēi jǐ mò wèi.
If you want others to not know, unless you do nothing.
Yào xiǎng rénqián xiǎnguì, bì xiān rén hòu shòuzuì.
If you want to be famous in front of others, you must suffer first.
Of course, you can also use it in daily life, for example:
Yàoxiǎnɡ tígāo Hànyǔ shuǐpínɡ, wǒ yyīnggāi zuò shénme?
What should I do if I want to improve my Chinese?
Nǐ kěyǐ duō hé Zhōngguó pénɡyǒu liáotiān. Yě kěyǐ duō lái cānjiā GoEast de huódòng.
You can talk more with Chinese friends. Or you can take more part in GoEast’s activities.
So now you read the full explanation on the difference between xiang and yao. Let’s do a simple quiz to test if you actually understand everything.
Choose from 要(yào)，想(xiǎng)，想要(yàoxiǎng)，要想(yàoxiǎng) for the following sentences.
Zhège zhōumò wǒ___qù cānjiā yīgè xīnnián huódòng, suǒyǐ bùnéng gēn kàn diànyǐng le.
Wǒ nǔlì xuéxí hànyǔ shì___zhǎo yīgè gèng hǎo de gōngzuò.
3 我__ 给我们妈妈买一个生日礼物，你可以给我出出主意吗？
Wǒ__ gěi wǒmen māmā mǎi yīgè shēngrì lǐwù, nǐ kěyǐ gěi wǒ chūchū zhǔyì ma?
4 ____ 找一个既轻松又钱多的工作，你得去做梦。
____ Zhǎo yīgè jì qīngsōng yòu qián duō de gōngzuò, nǐ dé qù zuòmèng.
Do not forget to tell us your answers. And if you want to learn Chinese grammars in an easy and structured way, without the headache of all linguistic terms, do not forget to check out our online live courses, every GoEast teacher knows how to explain things well in simple and easy ways.