The Chinese words 想 (xiǎng) and 想要 (xiǎngyào) can seem very similar, which makes them difficult to use properly. They do have distinct meanings and uses though.
想, and 想要 can all mean 'want' in some sense, but 想 is less forceful.
As always, remember that the best way to get a real feel for the language (语感) is to expose yourself to it as much as possible, and to practice using it as much as possible.
想 + verb as 'would like to'
In many cases, it might be better to think of 想 as 'would like to' rather than 'want'. When used for expressing wants, 想 can only be followed by a verb or verb phrase. In other words, 想 only means 'want' when it's an auxiliary verb.
许多情况下，把"想"当做"would like to"而不是"want"可能更好。当要表达需求的时候，"想"只能跟上动词或动词词组。换句话说，作为助动词时，"想"的意思只是"want"。
If you use 想 directly with a noun, it means something a bit different (see below).
Have a look at some example sentences:
wǒ xiǎng qù bālí.
I'd like to go to Paris.
wǒ xiǎng chī lǔcài.
I'd like to eat some Shandong food.
wǒ bùxiǎng jiàn tā.
I don't want to see her.
Notice in each example 想 is followed by a verb.
By using 想, the speakers only express their desire, but they don't specify their actual intention. They may or may not achieve the thing.
Have a look at some examples that illustrate this point:
tā xiǎng huí jiā, kěshì zuìhòu tā méiyǒu.
He wanted to go home, but in the end he didn't.
tā xiǎng mǎi liàng zìxíngchē, suǒyǐ jiù mǎile.
She wanted to buy a bike, so she did.
As you can see, simply expressing the want with 想 isn't enough to confirm what happened in the end or what the actual intention was.
想 as 'to think'
想 can mean 'to think', either as 'to believe' or 'to consider'. Have a look at some example sentences:
"想"有"to think"的意思，可以是"to believe"或者"to consider"。看看一些例句：
wǒ xiǎng nǐ méi qùguò ba?
I think you haven't been before, right?
wǒ xiǎng tā yīnggāi bù zhīdào.
I think he probably doesn't know.
想 as 'to think of' and 'to miss'
Finally, let's look at another meaning of 想. That is 想 as in 想念: 'to think of' or 'to miss'.
最后，一起看看"想"的另外一个意思，那就是"想念"，即"to think of"或"to miss"。
Have a look at some examples:
wǒ xiǎng nǐ.
I miss you.
wǒ hěn xiǎngniàn tā.
I really miss her.
We mentioned above that if you use 想 directly with a noun, it means something a little different. The example sentences above demonstrate that. When used with a noun, 想 means 'to miss' or 'to think of', and not 'to want'.
之前我们提到要是直接用"想"跟上名词的话，它的意思会有所不同，以上的例句就说明了这一点。"想"和名词使用的时候，它的意思就成了"to miss"或"to think of"而不是"to want"。
想要: to desire, to want
The verb 想要 is more trickier, because it has quite a broad range of intensity. It can range from expressing a simple want or request, to a strong desire for something.
Have a look at some examples:
wǒ xiǎng yào xiē píngguǒ.
I want some apples.
wǒ xiǎng yào yùyuē zài jīntiān xiàwǔ 5 diǎn.
I'd like to make an appointment for today at 5pm.
wǒ zhēn xiǎngyào kàn yī kàn níyǎjiālā pùbù.
I really want to see Niagara Falls.
As you can see, you've got to be pretty sure the context is clear when using 想要.
Translated from: Chinese Boost
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