Making Sense of Grammar
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What are the differences between the auxiliary verbs yào (要) and xiǎng (想)?
asked Apr 9 in Questions about Chinese Grammar by admin (19,380 points)

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The semantic differences of  yào (要) and xiǎng (想) can be categorized according to sentence structure: 

(1) Followed by a noun or a noun phrase

    Both  yào (要) and xiǎng (想) can be followed by a noun or a noun phrase. However, their meanings are not the same. yào (要) is followed by a concrete or an abstract noun or noun phrase. (Herzberg, Q., & Herzberg, L 2011). As shown in the following example, yào (要) means "to want something":

一杯咖啡。

I want a cup of coffee.

In this case, yào (要) cannot be replaced by the singular word xiǎng (想). In other words, it is not grammatical to say:

*我一杯咖啡。

However, it is grammatical to express "want something" by using xiǎng yào (想要) (Herzberg, Q., & Herzberg, L 2011).

想要一杯咖啡。

As for single word xiǎng (想), when it is followed by a noun or noun phrase, it means "to miss’"(Liu, Yao, Bi, Ge and Shi 2009), such as examples shown below:

我很家。

I miss home very much.

Similarly, the above examples cannot be replaced by the word ‘要’ as shown below:

*我很家。

(2) Followed by verb or verb phrase

    Both yào (要) and xiǎng (想) can also be followed by a verb or verb phrase. When yào (要) is followed by a verb or a verb phrase, it refers to the meaning of "want to" (Liu, Yao, Bi, Ge and Shi 2009), indicating a strong desire, intention or plan as shown in the following examples:

喝水。

I want to drink water.

下星期一我到美國開會。

I will attend a meeting in the U.S. next Monday.

In the first example, the sentence "我喝水" can still be grammatical when the "要" is replaced by "想", it becomes:

喝水。

I want to drink water.

Yet, the meaning is slightly different between two sentences. The degree of ‘emergency’ is much higher in "我喝水". 

In the second example, "到美國開會" is regarded as a duty, which is not the desire of the agent. Thus, when "想" is followed by a verb or a verb phrase, it contains the meaning as "would like to" (Liu, Yao, Bi, Ge and Shi 2009), indicating one's wish or plan:

學德語。

I want to learn German.

(3) Following by adverbs indicating degree

There are some adverbs which indicate degree, such as hěn (很) and fēi cháng (非常). In this situation, only "想" can be used after those adverbs, and the use of "要" is ungrammatical (Teng 2011). 

妹妹很吃糖果。

My sister want to eat candies badly.

*妹妹很吃糖果。​

Nevertheless, yī dìng (一定) can be followed by both "要" and "想", which means "must (do something)" and "must want to (do something)" :

這家餐廳的食物好極了,大家一定去。

The food in this restaurant is incredible. Everyone must try it.

這家餐廳的食物好極了,大家一定去。

The food in this restaurant is incredible. Everyone must want to go.

answered Apr 9 by admin (19,380 points)
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