Japanese

How Do You Say I WANT or NEED in Japanese?

Sometimes the way that you would say a phrase in English is pretty much the same way that you would say it in Japanese. I’m not talking so much about the word order or grammar of the phrases, but more along the lines of just plugging in the exact words for each language:

あぁ、そうですか? (aa, sou desu ka?)
Ah, is that so?

But then there are other times where the two languages handle things completely differently! In particular, I am talking about how each language handles the words “I want” to express your own desires, and also “I need” when something is a necessity for you.

In English it’s pretty simple, you just say “I want/need X” and then substitute “X” for whatever it is that you wish for. But in Japanese the words you choose will change depending on if you want a noun or if you want to do an action. And there is a similar situation in Japanese for things that you “need” too.

Let’s take a look at the things that you “want” first, and then we’ll get to the stuff that you “need.”

How Do You Say I Want in Japanese? (Nouns)

When it comes to expressing your desire for a noun (an apple, a car, a house) it’s actually pretty simple. All you are going to do is say the noun that you want, add the particle to it, and then say 欲しいです (hoshii desu).

リンゴが欲しいです。 (ringo ga hoshii desu.)
I want an apple.

If you are in an informal situation, then you could drop the copula です and just end the phrase with the word 欲しい. But you gotta’ remember that the Japanese culture and language is all about being polite. It can come across as a little pushy if you just flat out tell people what you want.

So the way to soften the whole thing is to add after the verb to soften it, and then also to add either or けど at the very end of the sentence to (again) soften the whole thing, and to kind of imply that you are open to discussing an alternative.

リンゴが欲しいんですが。 (ringo ga hoshii n desu ga.)
I would like an apple (if that’s okay).

And when you need to conjugate it to the other forms like “I don’t want” or “I didn’t want” you will leave です the same and instead change 欲しい according to the same rules that are used for i-adjectives. If you want to see some examples on these kind of conjugations, keep on reading and I will show you some at the end of the next section.

How Do You Say I Want in Japanese? (Verbs)

In English we would just say “I want an apple” to talk about nouns and then we would substitute out “an apple” for the infinitive form of a verb to express a desire to do something: “I want to drink.” So for English speakers, “I want” stays the same. Pretty simple.

In Japanese you will actually change the form of the verb itself. I find that the easiest way to use the “want form” of the verb is to first think of the verb in its polite mass-form. Then you would replace the ます (masu) at the end of the verb to たいです (tai desu).

飲みます (nomimasu) “I drink” –> 飲みたいです (nomitai desu) “I want to drink”

Replacing ます with たい will work for most verbs, but there are a few exceptions that you will just have to learn by heart. And again, you can drop the copula です to make it informal, or you can add  and  to soften it.

Of course, you can combine this “wanting to do an action” with a noun that you intend to do the action to: “I want to drink water.” Just like the earlier example, you will attached the particle  to the noun.

水が飲みたいです。 (mizu ga nomitai desu.)
I want to drink water.

You can use this same phrase to say “I want to drink some water” as the word “some” is implied in these kind of situations.

When you add たい to the verb, it actually changes the verb into an i-adjective. So you will have to conjugate it according to those particular rules. I promised to show come examples when we were talking about 欲しい. You just have to change the final . Here are the different conjugations:

水が飲みたい。 (mizu ga nomitai.)
I want to drink water.

水が飲みたくない。 (mizu ga nomitaku nai.)
I don’t want to drink water.

水が飲みたかった。 (mizu ga nomitakatta.)
I wanted to drink water.

水が飲みたくなかった。 (mizu ga nomitakunakatta.)
I didn’t want to drink water.

These above four examples are all informal. You just need to add the copula です to make the sentence more polite.

How Do You Say I Need in Japanese? (Nouns)

We tend to use the words “I want” and “I need” interchangeably even though they are not always the same thing. For the most part, I think that you should be able to use the above phrases for “I want” and you’ll be just fine. However, there are some times when you will actually have to say “I need” in Japanese. That’s where 要る (iru) comes into play.

お金が要ります。 (o kane ga irimasu.)
I need some money.

I’ve also seen it written in just Hiragana as いります, so just be aware of that in case you run into it.

This one is not like an i-adjective. You will conjugate the verb ending according to verb conjugation rules. But there is one thing that is the same: you will use  to mark the object that you need.

How Do You Say I Need in Japanese? (Verbs)

Are you noticing a trend here? Japanese handles nouns and verbs differently. I personally think that it’s really interesting and I enjoy learning about it. I think it’s probably because Japanese is so different from English. That kind of variety is really refreshing from my perspective.

“Need to” sentences are constructed a little differently from “want to” sentences. You will take the verb in it’s infinitive form (食べる), combine it with the word for “necessary” (必要), and then use the verb “to exist” (ある). That sounds a little complicated when it’s just explained, so here are some examples to clear up any confusion:

食べる必要があります。 (taberu hitsuyou ga arimasu.)
I need to eat.

A literal translation would be: To eat, necessary, it is.

This phrase is a great one to learn by heart since you could substitute out the verb 食べる for any other that you’d like.

水を飲む必要があります。 (mizu o nomu hitsuyou ga arimasu.)
I need to drink some water.

今日は東京に行く必要があります。 (kyou wa toukyou ni iku hitsuyou ga arimasu.)
I need to go to Tokyo today.

If you need to change it from “need” to “don’t need” or anything like that, just conjugate the あります at the end of the sentence.

What About What Other People Want?

An interesting thing is that is that we truly can’t know what another person wants unless they tell us. This aspect is actually accounted for in the Japanese language as the above words can only be used when talking about your own desires.

So how do you handle those situations when talking about a third party’s wants? You’ve got a couple of options that you can use. They are kind of a roundabout way of expressing things… which is a very Japanese thing to do!

(1) It Looks Like He Wants…

So if you’re talking to a friend about Jim, instead of saying “Jim wants to eat,” you could instead say “It looks like Jim wants to eat”

ジムは食べたがっている。 (jimu wa tabetagatte iru.)
It looks like Jim wants to eat.

All you have to do is replace the last  with がっている for both the  form of verbs and also for the word 欲し.

And the negative is がらない:

ジムは食べたがらない。(jimu wa tabetagara nai.)
It looks like Jim doesn’t want to eat.

(2) Quotation

Or if Jim actually told you what he wanted, then you could just quote him directly when telling your friend about it:

ジムは中国に行きたくないと言いました。 (jimu wa chuugoku ni ikitaku nai to iimashita.)
Jim said he doesn’t want to go to China.

(3) Hypothesis

Still another way would be to finish your sentence with “I think” (思う) to tell the other person that “you think someone else wants to do something.” Maybe you’ve come to a conclusion about what the other person wants, but only implicitly. That’s when it would be good to use this strategy.

ジムは中国に行きたくないと思います。 (jimu wa chuugoku ni ikitaku nai to omo imasu.)
I think Jim doesn’t want to go to China.

(4) Apparently

And for the last recommendation for talking about another person’t desires, we get to a way of saying it “seems like” or “apparently.”

All you have to do is state the sentence normally and finish it with ようだ (you da).

ジムは中国に行きたくないようだ。 (jimu wa chuugoku ni ikitaku nai you da.)
It seems that Jim doesn’t want to go to China.

As you can see, all of these phrases avoid you just bluntly stating what Jim (another person) wants or doesn’t want.

What is it that YOU want? Were these phrases helpful? Do you need me to clarify anything?

Let me know your thoughts with a comment below!

18 Comments

  • Angela

    Reading the explanation of how words are translated from English to Japanese helps me understand why Japanese people learning English say things the way that they do. This was very enlightening. Being able to actually hear the words spoken was excellent too! Thank you!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s like, when you understand that there is no “L” sound in Japanese, then you understand why they have a hard time with English words that have L’s in them. And it’s true for the way sentences are structured too.

      I don’t think I really gave much thought to that fact before, but I would have to say that I agree with you 100%!

  • Gordana

    Well like I said, this post is written in a great way with the explanation compared to English language. It is pleasant for me to learn about foreigners and how they express themselves. Good job!

  • Gordana

    English is not my native language, whereas I like to learn foreign languages. Unfortunately Japanese is not my best one, but I appreciate this post and all the explanations above. For me, it is very pleasant to learn the way people from the other countries live, how they express themselves and to meet their culture. On the contrary I like Japanese people, their lifestyle, and I appreciate their health open minded style including food, exercises. I personally haven’t visited Japan and I am little scary of knowing they experience a lot of earthquakes. But I appreciate their hardworking life style and fidelity.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, there are a lot of really nice things about Japan and their culture. It is unfortunate that they get so many earthquakes, especially considering how it can cause typhoon like the big one not too long ago.

      But when it comes to their society, they are actually one of the safest places to be on earth!

      Seeing as how the Olympics are being held there in 2020, it will be interesting to see how many people decide to start learning some Japanese so that they can communicate with the locals when they visit.

  • MarieG

    Arigatou ne. Nihon ni ikitaine. 🙂 Japan is number one on my list of countries to visit. But since I moved to Europe (I’m asian), it has become too far away.lol. I have finished visiting the neighbouring cities from base first and still haven’t set foot there.

    I’ve learned bits of Japanese by my own but I tend to forget how to read and write…so your post reminded me how fun it is to learn Nihongo. Thank you for the clear explanations, I’ll surely come back for more.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Douitashimashite! Yeah, Europe it pretty far from Japan, but I guess you could catch a flight over China to get there. I also want to go to Japan sometime this year if I can ever get around to planning it and buying my ticket, lol!

      Yeah, I totally feel ya on having a hard time remembering how to read and write Japanese. It’s a lot different from English, that’s for sure! I actually wrote about some techniques that you can use to help boost memory when you study. Check it out sometime if you are interested:

      How to Remember Japanese – A Look at Encoding

  • Scott

    Hi Nick,

    This is a GREAT resource! Coincidentally enough, there is a big chance that I’ll be going to Japan later this year. I will for sure be coming back to your site on a regular basis. You give such great detail with the verbs and the nouns.

    Amazing site!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Scott, thank you! Yeah I really try to give a good explanation on the topic for each post, along with some example phrases that can be used in the real world. And just recently I’ve started adding audio files along with the example sentences so that people could really get a feel for the sound of the language. And also to practice it as well!

      That is pretty awesome that you might be going to Japan this year! Every year is seem like the Japanese come out with more and better technology that totally rocks! Be sure to take lots of pictures on your trip!

  • Mike

    I want to learn how to speak Japanese. How long does it take to be fluent in Japanese? What is the best methods for learning this?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey man, that’s great! I know a lot of people who would also like to learn Japanese, but just aren’t sure where to start. That’s why I created a page on this website dedicated to people who are just starting out. Check it out by clicking on this link below:

      Learn How to Speak in Japanese

      If you want to check out some of the better courses on learning Japanese, you can read some of my reviews on them over in my reviews section:

      Reviews

      And if you ever have any questions for me in particular, just leave me a comment sometime and I will do my best to answer it!

  • Furkan

    My Asian friends just love Japanese foods and we go Japanese restaurants a lot in Thailand. Next time when I go the restaurant I will make the order in Japanese. I think it will definitely surprise them.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah Furkan, ordering in Japanese will definitely impress not only your friends, but also the staff! When ordering a drink at a restaurant, you can use this phrase:

      “Drink” + ni shimasu

      So if you want to say “I’ll have a water” you would say: mizu ni shimasu.

      Or if you wanted a beer, you would say: biru ni shimasu.

      Just starting off with a simple phrase like that ought to get you off to a great start. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get preferential treatment from the staff!

  • Melani

    Interesting posts! I have learnt Japanese for 2 years when I was studying in a college. I still remember the lesson a little. How can you memorize the Japanese words well? Do you have tips for memorizing the words?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Melani, that’s really cool that your college taught Japanese when you attended! Unfortunately, neither of the two colleges I went to taught Japanese as one of the languages. I guess they just weren’t big enough to support it.

      As far as ways to remember Japanese words well, I actually just wrote a post on that exact topic the other day! You can find it in this link below:

      How to Remember Japanese a Look at Encoding

      The different methods taught in this post aren’t the only ones you can use, but they are definitely enough to greatly improve memory!

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