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 が 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 ん after the verb to soften it, and then also to add either が 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 ん and が 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 が 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 い. 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 が 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 い with がっている for both the たい form of verbs and also for the word 欲しい.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s all for this lesson.
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: