When to use “wünschen”, “möchten” and “wollen” in German

When to use “wünschen”, “möchten” and “wollen” in German

There are several ways in German to express that you would like to have or do something, but some of them are a bit tricky. After reading this article you know how to apply all of them properly.

Often, German students try to directly translate from their known languages to German. Unfortunately, this causes some common mistakes when it comes to wanting something.

When to use “wünschen” in German

In English and many other languages, one can “wish” something, e.g. a glass of water if you would like to have it. Now, the German verb “wünschen” means “to wish” but it needs to be used in a different content. Back in time, it was common to say “Ich wünsche ein Glas Wasser” and until today a waiter in a fancy restaurant might ask you “Was wünschen Sie?” or “Sie wünschen bitte?”. However, the word “wünschen” is generally used to express a wish for somebody or something nowadays. This could be “Ich wünsche dir alles Gute” (I am wishing you all the best) or “Zum Geburstag wünsche ich mir eine Puppe“ (I am wishing a doll for my birthday). As you can see, this verb normally is not used to express the wish for a glass of water or a plan which you would like to realize. Instead, it is used to express a wish you give to somebody from your heart or to express a wish which you cannot for sure say about that you will be able to get or realize it. In the example, somebody wishes a doll for the birthday but the person does not know if this will really happen or not.

What can we use instead of “wünschen”?

Well, there are two more verbs which you can use: “möchten” and “wollen”. “Möchten” means “would like to” and “wollen” is the equivalent to “want”. As you can easily see by the English translation, “möchten” is the politer version than “wollen”. Keep this in mind, because most of the time, and especially when interacting with others like in a restaurant, you will want to use “möchten” because otherwise, it will sound rude to Germans. If you want to express that you want to do something (like a plan) or your mood changed from polite to a bit more angry, it is time to use the verb “wollen”.

Both of them belong to the German modal verbs. This means:

  1. If used with a second verb, the second verb comes to the very end of the sentence in infinitive form. (“Ich will heute keine Hausaufgabe machen.”)
  2. The “ich” and “er,sie,es“-form will be the same.

In Addition, both verbs can:

  1. Be used with a noun instead of a second verb. (Ich möchte einen Kaffee bitte).
ich möchte will
du möchtest willst
er möchte will
sie möchte will
es möchte will
wir möchten wollen
ihr möchtet wollt
sie möchten wollen
Sie möchten wollen

Now, that you read this article, you should be confident of when to use “wünschen”, “möchten” and “wollen”.

Bis bald!


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