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How to Say "Want to" in Japanese - The -tai Structure

written by: Tommy Carlton • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 6/6/2012

Being able to describe what you want and don't want to do, or asking the same thing of others, is a very helpful tool in basic conversation. Covers how to change any verb into the "want to" or "do not want to" form using the -tai structure.

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    Why "want to" is Important

    In a conversation, two people rarely do nothing but state facts. Quite often, opinions are expressed, as well as desires. These desires are a very important part of the conversation, and when learning a foreign language, learning how to express desire correctly can take you from generic textbook sentences to ones that are unique to you. Also, it can help you out in certain situations, such as eating out. If you don't want to eat octopus, now you'll know how to say so!

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    Grammar: the -tai Form

    In English, we use the verb "want" in two different ways. The first way is to say "I want an apple," simply stating desire for an object. The second is to say "I want to see a movie." This is a more complicated form, grammatically, and it involves using the verb "want" as a helping verb for "to see," the primary verb. This is what we will cover in this article, how to say "want" + [a verb].

    In Japanese, the verb "want" is not actually a second verb, but rather a new conjugation of the primary verb. However, like many Japanese conjugations, it is simply based off another conjugation pattern. This is nice for foreign learners, and keeps things eaiser to learn.

    To get the -tai form of a verb, first you must put the verb into the -masu form. We'll use the examples taberu (to eat), iku (to go), suru (to do), and au (to meet). Putting them in the -masu form, we get tabemasu, ikimasu, shimasu, and aimasu. At this point, remove the -masu. This leaves us with tabe, iki, shi, and ai. The final step is to add -tai to the end of the -masu stem. Our verbs come out as tabetai, ikitai, shitai, and aitai. Here is another way to see the conjugations form:

    taberu --> -masu form --> tabemasu --> remove -masu --> tabe --> add -tai --> tabetai

    This is one of the easier verb forms in Japanese, since it is based off the commonly-used -masu form. However, it is still very important to learn, and very useful. The same conjugation pattern is used for every verb, so from now on, every time you learn a new verb in the -masu form, you can form the -tai form as well!

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    Other Tenses

    Because the -tai form changes the verb itself, you might be wondering how to change the tense of the verb, but retain the "want to" as well. Luckily, when we make the change to the -tai form, we simply give ourselves another conjugation pattern: -i adjectives. Any Japanese -tai form verb conjugates just like an -i adjective does, so here is an example with miru (to see):

    Present Tense | Present Tense Neg. | Past Tense | Past Tense Neg.

    mitai | mitakunai | mitakatta | mitakunakatta

    You can see those conjugations as "want to," "don't want to," "wanted to," and "didn't want to" in English. Any other uses of an -i adjective can also be mimicked by a -tai form verb, so you really increase your abilities in Japanese just by learning the -tai form.