Tai Form: Expressing Desire in Japanese

In Japanese, the ~たい(-tai)form is used to express desire. When a verb is conjugated using the -tai form, it means, “I want to [verb].” To conjugate the -tai form, remove -masu from the -masu form of the verb and add -tai in its place.

Using the Tai Form

A woman holding a spoon in her right hand, and a fork in her left hand. The fork is in her mouth, and the woman looks like she is thinking of something to eat.

The -tai form is used when you want to express your wish or desire to do something. It can only be used for actions (verbs). For nouns (physical objects, as in “I want money.”), you will use the word “hoshii” (more on this later). The -tai form is used to express your desires instead of someone else’s. There are ways around this rule, but we’ll get to that later as well.

Japanese sentences are structured using the Subject Object Verb (SOV) structure, while English uses the Subject Verb Object (SVO) approach. You must consider this when creating a sentence using the -tai form as well. 

In English, you might say:  

  • I want to go to Shibuya.

The Japanese version of this sentence looks more like this:

  • 私は渋谷に行きたいです。(Watashi wa Shibuya ni ikitai desu.

Literally translated, the English of this restructured sentence would be:

I Shibuya to want to go.

The general formula for a sentence using the -tai form in Japanese is:  

I (私は, Watashi wa)+ Object (place, person, thing) + Verb{masu stem} たいです。

Common Verbs in the ­-Tai Form

Dictionary Form-masu Form-tai Form
する(suru)- to doします(shimasuしたい(shitai
来る(kuru)- to come来ます(kimasu来たい(kitai
行く(iku)- to go行きます(ikimasu行きたい(ikitai
話す(hanasu)- to speak話します(hanashimasu話したい(hanashitai
聞く(kiku)- to listen聞きます(kikimasu聞きたい(kikitai
食べる(taberu)- to eat食べます(tabemasu食べたい(tabetai
生きる(ikiru)- to live生きます(ikimasu生きたい(ikitai
会う(au)- to meet会います(aimasu会いたい(aitai
歌う(utau)- to sing歌います(utaimasu歌いたい(utaitai

Using -Tai in the Past Tense

The -tai form can also be used to refer to a desire you had in the past. The conjugation changes slightly: the i in -tai is dropped and replaced with -katta. 

Using this formula, let’s look at the previous example. In this case, you wanted to go to Shibuya.

  • I wanted to go to Shibuya. – 私 は渋谷に行きたかった。 Watashi wa shibuya ni ikitakatta.

Using Tai to Talk About Another Persons Desires

A group of 4 people sitting down around a small table with a laptop on it. There are two young Asian men on the right, and a older white woman and man on the left. They look to be having an enjoyable conversation.

Under special circumstances, it’s acceptable to use the past tense of the -tai form to speak about someone else’s desires. However, the speaker must be confident that the third party they’re referring to truly had those desires. For example, at funerals, the deceased’s wishes are better referred to using -tai.

  • She wanted to be a flight attendant. – あの子、キャビンアテンダントになりたかった。Ano ko, kyabin attendanto ni naritakatta.

As the person is no longer around to voice their own wishes, it’s up to those who knew them best to speak on their behalf. However, aside from these more solemn situations, Japanese people don’t use the -tai form to refer to third party wishes unless they are repeating what they heard.  

Let’s say John told you, “I want to eat ice cream (私はアイスが食べたいな).” If Mary comes along as asks, “What do you guys want to eat?” You can repeat what John said using the tai form: ジョンはアイスが食べたいって。 (Jon wa aisu ga tabetai tte) – Jon said he wanted to eat ice cream.  

We’ll cover this in more detail later in this article.  

I Don’t Want To: Tai Negative Form

Here’s the conjugation formula for -tai in the negative form:

Using the initial formula for conjugating the -tai form, drop the i and replace it with -kunai. 

Let’s look at our example of Shibuya again. In this case, we’ll assume that you don’t want to go to Shibuya.

  • I don’t want to go to Shibuya. 私は渋谷に行きたくない。   (Watashi wa shibuya ni ikitakunai.

Tai Negative Past Tense Form

If you’re referring to something you didn’t want to go/do in the past tense, you need to replace the negative particle ない(nai)with its past tense form なかった(nakatta) .

Here is the same sentence about not wanting to go to Shibuya, but in the past tense.

  • I didn’t want to go to Shibuya. – 私は、渋谷に行きたくなかった。Watashi wa, shibuya ni ikitakunakatta.

Using the -Tai Form Politely

A young man and woman in business attire, sitting at a table speaking to someone off to the right (only the back of his head is visible).

Japanese has many levels of formal language. To make a sentence that uses “tai” more polite, simply add “です” at the end. 

Informal: I wanna go to Shibuya! – 渋谷に行きたい! (Shibuya ni ikitai!

Polite: I want to go to Shibuya. – 私は渋谷に行きたいです。Watashi wa shibuya ni ikitai desu.

In the informal example, the speaker’s pronoun (私) is omitted entirely. This is a common practice in both casual and polite Japanese if the subject is already understood. In the second sentence, adding 私 (watashi) makes it sound more formal, but it would sound “stiff” if you already used 私 in your previous sentences.

However, the inclusion of desu is good for polite conversation. Omitting it would be acceptable if you’re speaking with people from your inner circle. In Japanese, the inner and outer circles of social contacts in your life are tied to levels of honorific Japanese. 

The -Tai Form + と思います(To Omoimasu

Another polite and natural way to state your desires using the -tai form is to say that you think you want to do something. The sentence structure would look like this:

For example, let’s say that you want to go to Shibuya with your boss and coworkers. Wanting to keep your request polite formal, you say:

  • I think that I want to go to Shibuya. – 私は渋谷に行きたいと思います。    (Watashi wa shibuya ni ikitai to omoimasu

Using the -Tai Form in the Third Person

As mentioned earlier in this article, you would use the -tai to express your own desires. However, there is a way to use it to talk about what other people want to do. But first, let’s look at useful words/phrases you can use with tai to describe what other people said.

Speculative Language

The easiest way to refer to a third party’s wishes using the -tai form is to add hypothetical or “he said, she said” phrases. Some of the more popular phrases include:

  • ~らしい(~rashii)- it seems
  • ~と言ってた(~to itteta)- they said…
  • ~そうです(~sou desu)- it looks to me like…

These phrases are placed after the –tai form of the verb and end the sentence. Here are a few examples:

1. It seems like my sister wants to eat ramen. – うちの妹がラーメンを食べたいらしい。      (Uchi no imouto ga raamen o tabetai rashii.

2. Takeshi said he didn’t want to hang out today. – 武は今日遊びたくないと言ってた。 Takeshi wa kyou asobitakunai to itteta.

3. It seems like that person wants to enter this building. – あの人はこのビルに入りたそうです。Ano hito wa kono biru ni haritasou desu.

You maintain that you aren’t 100% certain about the third party’s wishes using speculative language. This is considered a polite way of referring to someone else’s desires.

The ~たがる(-Tagaru)Form

A group of young Asian men  (2) and woman (2) sitting down at a table drinking iced tea and juice, having a conversation.

The ­-tagaru form is technically a combination of the -tai form, plus がある(ga aru)。 It is the sibling of the -tai form and is used to refer to a third party’s desires. The meaning is the same: to want. 

You don’t need speculative phrases when using the -tagaru form. Just conjugate the verb you wish to use and put it into the sentence.

  • Mike wants to go to Shibuya. – マイクは渋谷に行きたがっている。Maiku wa shibuya ni ikitagatteiru.

More often than not, the -tagaru form is used in the continuous tense. The exception to this is when the desire is habitual, not current, or finite. For example, if Mike ate ramen on Tuesdays, the sentence would look like this:

  • Mike wants ramen on Tuesdays. – マイクは火曜日にラーメンを食べたがる。Maiku wa kayoubi ni raamen o tabetagaru.

Do you understand the difference?

Tagaru: Negative Form

In the negative tense, the -tagaru is conjugated a bit differently than the -tai form.

  •  Mike doesn’t want to go to Shibuya. – マイクは渋谷に行きたがらない。     (Maiku wa Shibuya ni ikitagaranai.

Simply conjugate the “ru” from -tagaru into the negative for to make -tagaranai.

While the -tagaru form is useful, it’s not as colloquial as using the -tai form with speculative language. You will likely find the -tagaru form in written Japanese and hear the speculative language combined with -tai when it comes to third party wishes. Feel free to use whichever one you’re comfortable with; both are acceptable in polite conversation.

The -Tai Form and Particles

Japanese particles can be confusing to many learners. This is especially true for the -tai form, as native speakers might leave out particles altogether when expressing their desires using -tai.

The two particles that can be used with the -tai form are を(o)and が(ga). The ga particle is very similar to the は(wa)particle, which is often taught as the Japanese subject or topic marker. Ga is used in the place of wa if there needs to be a distinction about which subject is the actual topic of the sentence. The use of ga hints that there might be multiple unspoken options or subjects behind the sentence, while wa demonstrates a solid and singular subject. Many Japanese speakers will also use ga if something needs to be emphasized. For example:

1. Oh, will Tom go to Osaka? – “じゃあ、トムさん大阪に行くの?” (Jaa, Tomu-san wa Osaka ni iku no?

2. No, Tasuke will go to Osaka. – “いや、太助さん行くんだって!” (Iya, Tasuke-san ga ikun datte!

The を particle is used to mark a direct object. It will be found after the O in Japan’s SOV sentence structure. For example, if you want to say that you’re reading a book, the word book will have o placed after it as a marker.

  • I’m reading a book. – 私は本読んでいます。 (Watashi wa hon o yondeimasu.

Technically speaking, there’s no right answer to which of these particles fits best with the -tai form. However, you might notice that more Japanese people use the ga particle. This might be in part to emphasize something they desire more than other things. While it isn’t incorrect to use the o particle while expressing your desires, it’s best to be aware that most Japanese speakers use ga.

 I’m reading a book. – 私は本んでいる。 (Watashi wa hon o yondeiru.

 I want to read a book. – 私は本みたいです。  (Watashi wa hon ga yomitai desu.

Another important thing to remember is that in casual, spoken Japanese, the particle is often left out altogether (along with the formal “desu). The subject can also be left out, as the -tai form is only used to refer to yourself.

  • I want to read a book. 本読みたい。 (Hon yomitai

Japanese particles are tricky, but as the saying goes, “Language is alive.” By listening and speaking often, you’ll gain a natural feel for when and how to use your particles.

The -Tai Form vs. 欲しい(Hoshii

A young woman standing in front of a display case filled with pastries. She is pointing to a pastry and the arm of a store employee can be seen taking the item with a pair of tongs.

The verb 欲しい(hoshiimeans to want, to desire. It’s used when you want a physical object (noun).

The typical sentence structure for using hoshii to describe something you want is:

As with the -tai form, the subject of this sentence will almost always be you. The object will be a noun, and the particle will be が (ga) in most cases. Let’s look at this example sentence:

  • I want ice cream. -(私は)アイスが欲しい。 ((Watashi wa) aisu ga hoshii.

Hoshii: Negative Form

When conjugated in the negative or past tense, hoshii acts a lot like the -tai form. The last “i” is changed into “kunai.”

Example:

  •  I don’t want ice cream. – (私は)アイスが欲しくない。         ((Watashi wa) aisu ga hoshikunai.

Hoshii: Past Tense

For hoshii in the past tense, you would change the last “i” into “katta.”

Example:

  •  I wanted ice cream. -(私は)アイスが欲しかった。 ((Watashi wa) aisu ga hoshikatta.) 

Another way in which hoshii acts like the -tai form is in polite conversation. Like the -tai form, hoshii becomes more polite when it has です(desu)at the end of its sentence. Unlike the -tai form, however, ~to omoimasu can’t be used to add an extra level of formality.

Hoshii: Wanting Someone Else to Do Something

A middle aged man clasping his hands together with his facial expression looking as if he is asking for a favor.

Hoshii can be used if you want someone else to do something. To do this, add “ほしい” to the te-form of a verb.  

Example:

  • (I) want you to read this magazine. – あなたにこの雑誌を読んでほしい。 (anata ni kono zasshi o yonde hoshii).  

Notice that the “I” is omitted from the Japanese sentence. Anyone hearing this sentence will understand that you are the subject (since you are the one saying the sentence). The “you” (あなたに) could also be omitted in this case.

This pattern is also used when you want an organization, company, or even nature to do something.  

Examples:

1. I want the police to warn all the people in this area who don’t follow proper bicycle etiquette. – この辺にいる自転車のマナーの悪い人に、警察から注意してほしいな。 (kono hen ni iru jitensha no manaa no warui hito ni, keisatsu kara chui shite hoshii na).  

2. I want the weather to get cooler. – 天候 がもっと涼しくなってほしい。 (tenkou ga motto suzushiku natte hoshii)

Conclusion

There is an abundance of ways to express your desires in Japanese. However, it’s important to remember that speaking about someone else’s desires requires a bit of fine-tuning or a different verb form altogether.

What is something that you want right now? Try writing it in Japanese in the comment section below! Thank you for reading this article on the -tai form, and good luck with your studies.

Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Send this to a friend