VCONJ + TAI (-たい)

The structure “Verb (conjunctive base) + TAI (DESU)” expresses the idea that we want to do something.

  • In the affirmative form, it can only be used with the first persons (“I want to do” or “we want to do”).
  • In the interrogative form, it can be used with the second persons (“do you want to do...).
  • When referring to someone not present (“he/she wants,” “they want...”), use the suffix -TAGARU instead of -TAI. Or you can use -TAI + NO DA/DESU.

This is a very important structure as it will give you the possibility to translate sentences such as the ones below:

  • I want to go there
  • I don’t want to leave
  • I wanted to do
  • I didn’t want to tell him
  • We want to know
  • Do you want to go there…?

First, note that the copula DESU (です) can be added if you need to express yourself politely. When speaking to friends for example, you just need to add the suffix -TAI (-たい) without です.

This structure is formed with the conjunctive base of the verb (also called the connective base). Refer to the lessons on verbs if you don’t know how to conjugate Japanese verbs. Once you have the conjunctive base, simply add the suffix -TAI (-たい) to it.

(Watashi wa) kinou no shinbun o yomitai.
I want to read yesterday’s newspaper.

In this example, the verb 読む (YOMU, to read) in its conjunctive form becomes YOMI (読み). The suffix -TAI is attached to it to form our structure. As for the subject (私), it’s commonly omitted in Japanese when the context is clear.

Nihon ni ikitai desu.
I want to go to Japan.

Unlike other constructions whose meaning might not be obvious when the subject is omitted, this structure’s meaning is very clear. In fact, when the sentence is in the affirmative form, the subject can only be “I” or “we” as we saw. And when it’s a question, the subject is always “you.” So misundertandings are quite unlikely. Below is an example where the speaker asks the listener a question (the subject is omitted):

Nani ga shitai desu ka.
What do you want to do?

Negative Form and Past Form

If you know how to construct the past and negative forms of い adjectives, then this section will be easy.

First of all, let’s observe the negative form. Just like all い adjectives, the suffix -TAI ends with い. That final い must be removed and replaced by -KUNAI (-くない). It’s possible to add DESU (です) to convey a polite tone.

Haisha ni ikitakunai.
I don’t want to go to the dentist.

For the past, the process is similar, but instead of replacing い by -KUNAI, it’s replaced by -KATTA (-かった). Here again, DESU is possible.

Haisha ni naritakatta desu.
I wanted to become a dentist.

Now things become a little more complicated with the negative past form. The Japanese language belongs to a group of languages called “agglutinative languages,” because small elements can be combined to modulate the meaning of a word. Here is a good example of this agglutinative property. First, the suffix -TAI (-たい) is turned into the negative form (-KUNAI). You can see that -KUNAI (-くない) also ends with い. Can you guess what happens next? Remove that い and attach -KATTA (-かった) for the past form.

In short, you start with -TAI and finish with -TAKUNAKATTA (-たくなかった). And if that’s not long enough, you can add DESU at the end as well to mark politeness!

Ikitakunakatta desu.
I didn’t want to go there.

In the example above, IKU (行く, to go) becomes IKI in the conjunctive base. Add -TAI to obtain IKITAI, and finally apply the modulations that we’ve just learned to obtain 行きたくなかった (IKITAKUNAKATTA).

Additional Information

Inanimate objects can’t, by nature, have will or desires. Therefore, the -TAI form doesn’t exist for ARU (ある, to be, to exist for objects). However, it’s possible to use it with IRU (いる, to be, to exist for living beings).

Kimi to isshoni itai.
I want to be with you.

Finally, the Japanese pay great attention not to be too direct when speaking. So saying “I want” is not always acceptable in Japanese in some circumstances. To soften your statement, you can to add TO OMOIMASU (と思います) immediately after -TAI (“I think that…”), or NO DESU GA (のですが). When speaking, NO DESU GA is frequently contracted in NDESU GA.

Boushi o kaitai n desu ga...
I would like to buy a hat.

Literally: I want to buy a hat, but... (we are suggested that, if it’s not possible, it’s still alright. So the tone is softer).

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