Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

5.5: Lesson 4 Grammar - Auxiliary verb 要 (yào) and its multiple meanings

  • Page ID
    65639
  • You probably already know the basic meaning of 要 (yào) as "to want." It is actually a quite versatile word, though, and can also take on the meanings of "to need" as well as "will (do something)." In every case, context is crucial for figuring out which meaning someone is trying to express.

    要 (yào) as "Want" 

    This structure could be used when ordering food at a restaurant or a shop. Here, it's being used for saying that you want something.

    Structure 

       Subj. + 要 + Noun

    Examples 

    • 你要什么?
      Nǐ yào shénme?
      What do you want?
       
    • 我要一杯水。
      Wǒ yào yī bēi shuǐ.
      I want a cup of water.
       
    • 你们都要冰可乐吗?
      Nǐmen dōu yào bīng kělè ma?
      Do you all want coke with ice?
       
    • 你要茶还是咖啡?
      Nǐ yào chá háishì kāfēi?
      Do you want tea or coffee?
       
    • 我们要三碗米饭。
      Wǒmen yào sān wǎn mǐfàn.
      We want three bowls of rice.

    要 (yào) as "Want to" 

    In Chinese, 要 (yào) can mean "want to" (similar to 想 (xiǎng)), but its tone is quite firm. So it's used for saying that you want to do something.

    Structure 

       Subj. + 要 + Verb

    Examples 

    • 你要喝什么酒?
      Nǐ yào hē shénme jiǔ?
      What kind of wine do you want to drink?
       
    • 爸爸要买一个新手机。
      Bàba yào mǎi yī gè xīn shǒujī.
      Dad wants to buy a new cell phone.
       
    • 我要跟你一起去。
      Wǒ yào gēn nǐ yīqǐ qù.
      I want to go with you.
       
    • 她要去大城市找工作。
      Tā yào qù dà chéngshì zhǎo gōngzuò.
      She wants to go to a big city to find a job.
       
    • 周末你们要一起看电影吗?
      Zhōumò nǐmen yào yīqǐ kàn diànyǐng ma?
      Do you want to go see a movie together this weekend?

    要 (yào) as "Need to" 

    If you crank the urgency of "to want" up a few notches, you get "to need." The two meanings overlap, creating a fuzzy, "needy" gray area.

    Structure 

       Subj. + 要 + Verb

    Examples 

    • 你要早点睡觉。
      Nǐ yào zǎo diǎn shuìjiào.
      You need to go to bed earlier.
       
    • 我明天要上班。
      Wǒmen míngtiān yào shàngbān.
      We need to work tomorrow.
       
    • 老板今天要见一个新客户。
      Lǎobǎn jīntiān yào jiàn yī gè xīn kèhù.
      Today the boss needs to see a new client.
       
    • 老师太累了,要好好休息。
      Lǎoshī tài lèi le, yào hǎohǎo xiūxi.
      The teacher is too tired. She needs to rest well.
       
    • 明天下雨,你要带伞。
      Míngtiān xiàyǔ, nǐ yào dài sǎn.
      It's going to rain tomorrow; you need to bring an umbrella.

    要 (yào) as "Going to" 

    This use of 要 (yào) is like "going to" (similar to 会 (huì)).

    Structure 

    Again, no change to the structure here, but it often includes a mention of a time when something is going to happen.

       Subj. + 要 + Verb

    Examples 

    • 星期五我们要开会。
      Xīngqīwǔ wǒmen yào kāihuì.
      We are going to have a meeting on Friday.
       
    • 12点我要去吃饭。
      Shí'èr diǎn wǒ yào qù chīfàn.
      I am going to go eat at 12 o'clock.
       
    • 老板下周要出差吗?
      Lǎobǎn xià zhōu yào chūchāi ma?
      Is the boss going on a business trip next week?
       
    • 他们明年要结婚了。
      Tāmen míngnián yào jiéhūn le.
      They are going to get married next year.
       
    • 今年你要回家过年吗?
      Jīnnián nǐ yào huíjiā guònián ma?
      Are you going to return home this year to celebrate the Chinese New Year?

    Context, Context, Context 

    You may have noticed that the meanings can easily overlap. To figure out what is intended, you need to use context. How urgent is the situation? Is it likely to be something the speaker really wants to do? Is it something that's totally going to happen, regardless of anyone's preference? Most often, a little background knowledge and some common sense are all you need to figure it out.

    [adapted from AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, Creative Commons License BY-NC-SA 3.0]

    *     *     *

    Any Questions? 

    If you have any questions about this grammar point, please ask in the class forums!