The difference between “wollen” and “möchten”

The difference between “wollen” and “möchten”

While studying German, you might quickly encounter the two verbs “wollen” and “möchten.” Yet, many students get confused about when to use which of them. This article explains to you everything that you need to know to use them in the future.   

“Möchten” or “Wollen”?

Firstly, you should understand the meaning of the two verbs “möchten” or “wollen” in German in order to use them properly. “Möchten” means “would like to” in English, and “wollen” translates as “to want.” In the following, you can get to know more about when and how to use these verbs.  

The verb “wollen”

The German verb “wollen” is part of the modal verb group. These verbs always demand a second verb, or as in the case of “wollen” a noun that it refers to.

However, in reality, people often use “wollen” / “to want” wrong when it comes to everyday conversations. For instance, If I would ask my friend if he wants to join me for dinner, chances are quite high that his answer would be “I want”, though this is dramatically incorrect. The same applies to Germans that quite frequently answer with “ich will.”

Yet, you should remember to never (!) do this in a German test or when writing a proper text. Also, the conjugation “ich” and the 3rd person singular (er, sie, es) will always have the same form. Besides, also the vowel “o” changes to “i” for the singular persons. Beyond that, Germans usually use “wollen” in Präteritum (simple past) and not in Perfekt.

Conjugation of “wollen”

  Präsens Präteritum
ich will wollte
du willst wolltest
er will wollte
sie will wollte
es will wollte
wir wollen wollten
ihr wollt wolltet
sie wollen wollten

 

The usage of “wollen”

In German, you use “wollen” if you “want” something or if you plan to do something. Please be aware that there is a big danger of confusion and you do not (!) use “wollen” to form the future tense, as many students assume because of the similarity of “will” to the English “will-Future.” In English, the usage of “to want” is less polite, and that actually also applies to German. This means, for instance, that you would not use “wollen” if you wish to order something in a restaurant as it sounds rude. Though if your visit is a nightmare and you would want to ask angrily for the manager, you could easily use “wollen.” In short: If you want to express what you want to do or to have (like a plan) or your mood changed from polite to a bit more angry, it is time to use the verb “wollen” in German. It is possible to use “wollen” in two different ways in a sentence: with a second verb or a direct Object (Accusative).

1. Option = “wollen” + verb

If you want to use “wollen” with a second verb, the second verb has to go to the very end of your sentence. Accordingly, you can put everything in between the two verbs that you wish to add to your sentence. Also, as you already conjugated “wollen,” the second verb will stay in the infinitive form.

For instance:
  1. Ich will nächsten Sommer mit meiner Freundin nach Spanien reisen.
    • I want to travel to Spain with my (girl)friend next summer.
  2. Wir wollen mit unseren Eltern am Mittwoch in einem Restaurant essen.
    • We want to eat in a restaurant with our parents on Wednesday.

 

2. Option = “wollen” + direct object

The second option to use “wollen” is to connect it with a direct object. You do the same in English in a sentence such as “I want the money.” or “We want the pizzas.”. If you do that in German, it means that you have to use the “Accusative”-case in which the male article “der” becomes “den,” and accordingly, the male “ein” becomes “einen.”  

For instance:
  1. Wir wollen die Pizza.
    • We want the pizza. 
  2. Die Kinder wollen Ferien.
    • The children want a vacation. 

 

The verb “möchten”

The German verb “möchten” is the “light version” of “wollen,” and therefore, it also always demands a second verb or a noun. Also, the conjugation of “ich” and the 3rd person singular (er, sie, es) are always the same. Besides, “möchten” does not have an own version of past tense, and therefore, if you want to use “möchten” in the past, you need to use the Präteritum-version of “wollen.”  

Conjugation of “möchten”

  Präsens Präteritum
ich möchte wollte
du möchtest wolltest
er möchte wollte
sie möchte wollte
es möchte wollte
wir möchten wollten
ihr möchtet wolltet
sie möchten wollten

 

The usage of “möchten”

As already mentioned, the verb “möchten” is more polite and not as straightforward as “wollen.” Consequently, you should keep this in mind, because most of the time, and especially when interacting with others like in a coffee place, you will want to use “möchten”. Otherwise, it easily sounds rude to Germans and they might react a bit irritated. The grammatical rules for “möchten” are the same as we have for “wollen”.

1. Option = “möchten” + verb

  1. Ich möchte einen Hamburger bestellen.
    • I would like to order a hamburger.
  2. Meine Freunde möchten mit mir in den Park gehen.
    • My friends would like to go to the park with me.

 

2. Option = “möchten” + direct object

  1. Wir möchten die Rechnung bitte.
    • We would like the bill, please. 
  2. Die Menschen möchten die Einladung.
    • The people would like the invitation.

 

To want or to would like

I hope that after reading this article, it became clearer to you when to use “wollen” and “möchten”. Above all, if there might be still a situation of doubt, I would recommend you to always go for the polite version of “möchten” as you can always become more straightforward afterward. If you want to know more about how to form a sentence in the German Futur 1, check out how to speak in Future tense in German.

Bis bald!

Steffie      


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