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. Therefore, we will check out the verbs “wünschen”, “möchten” and “wollen”.
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 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 is typically 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 desire that you cannot for sure say about that you will be able to get or realize it. In the example, somebody wishes for a doll for their birthday, but the person does not know if this will really happen or not.
Recommended study materials on the topic:
- Overview of German modal verbs
- Exercise – German modal verbs in the present tense (incl. answers)
- Exercise – German modal verbs in the past tense (incl. answers)
- Conversation exercise – speaking with modal verbs in the present tense
- Conversation exercise – speaking with modal verbs in the past tense
- A-Grammar: Practice German grammar German (incl. answers)
- German self-study book for A1-B1 (incl. answers)
- Playful German modal verbs wheel
What can we use instead of “wünschen”?
Well, there are two more verbs which you can use – it is “möchten” and “wollen”. “Möchten” means “would like to” and “wollen” in German is the equivalent to “want”. As you can easily see by the English translation, “möchten” is the politer version than “wollen” in German. 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” in German.
Both of them belong to the German modal verbs. This means:
- If used with a second verb, the second verb comes to the very end of the sentence in the infinitive form. (“Ich will heute keine Hausaufgabe machen.”)
- The “ich” and “er, sie, es“-forms will be the same.
By the way, if you want to improve your skills, you should also check out the self-studying book A-Grammar: German grammar exercises for levels A1 & A2, which includes all grammar aspects for these levels, English descriptions, explanations, and an answer book. Also, you can take a look at this playful German modal verbs wheel.
In Addition, both verbs can:
- Be used with a noun instead of a second verb. (Ich möchte einen Kaffee bitte).
Now that you read this article, you should be confident about when to use “wünschen”, “möchten” and “wollen” in German. If you want to know more about the topic, check out the difference between “wollen” and “möchten.“
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