“I Wanted To” vs. “I Want To” – Difference Explained (9 Examples)

The past and present tenses are difficult to get right when you’re practicing your English skills. Some phrases, like “I wanted to” and “I want to,” are a good example of two phrases that use different tenses but are more similar than you might think!

What Is The Difference Between “I Wanted To” And “I Want To”?

“I wanted to” uses the past verb tense of “to want” to show the intention of doing something. You can also use “I wanted to” regarding future events. “I want to” uses the present verb tense of “to want” to show the intention that we want to do something now.

What Is The Difference Between "I Wanted To" And "I Want To"?
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Is It Correct To Use “I Wanted To” About A Future Event?

It is correct to use “I wanted to” about a future event. “I wanted to” uses the past tense of “to want,” but we always follow it with an infinitive verb like “go” or “do” (“I wanted to go”). Also, if the future event has changed, we can use “I wanted to” to show that.

What do we mean by that? Well, imagine that somebody was planning on taking you somewhere specific for an event in the future. As the time drew closer, they had to change their mind last minute and change the venue. That means something like this:

  • I wanted to go to the cinema with Jerry, but he now wants to go to the bowling alley.

The event in question hasn’t happened with Jerry yet. However, he’s changed the plans. So, while “I” wanted to go to the original venue, he’s changed his mind, and that’s one of the cases where it’s acceptable to use “I wanted to” about a future event.

You also don’t need to include the second clause at anytime. The first clause makes enough sense on its own. For example:

  • I wanted to go out tonight.

Here, we wanted to go out, but something might have changed our plans. We don’t need to elaborate further than that because the implication is already there. We can include a second clause like “but my friends are busy,” but it’s up to you to decide if necessary for the context.

As long as we use an infinitive verb like “go” or “do,” or any verb that is in its base form, then we can use “I wanted to” in this way.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says “I Wanted To”?

When somebody says “I wanted to,” it means that they wished they could partake in an event, but now that event might have changed. The reason it could have changed might be down to personal difficulties or a friend canceling or changing the plan.

As long as the future plan is now different from the originally intended one, you can use “I wanted to” to express your feelings about it.

“I wanted to” might be closely linked to “I want to,” but it doesn’t always have to be in the past tense. Most of the time, because we’re using “wanted” to express the desire of someone, we’re only using it in the present or future tense.

Examples Of “I Wanted To”

Let’s see some examples of using “I wanted to” in examples. This way, you can see how it works in more contexts, and you can start thinking about using it yourself. As long as an infinitive verb directly follows it (a verb left in its base form), you can use it.

  1. I wanted to go to the event, but it was canceled last night.
  2. I wanted to see you last week.
  3. I wanted to make sure you were okay, but you weren’t at home.
  4. I wanted to do something fun with you, but now I haven’t got time.
  5. I wanted to party hard this Friday, but they say the club is closed.

We included a few variations of tense in these examples. Future events are referenced in 1, 4, and 5, and past events in 2 and 3. See how the phrase is used in much the same way. The second clause that comes after it is generally what changes the entire tense of the sentence.

If you don’t include a second clause, you can instead include a time frame. For example, in example 2, we said “last week,” showing that the event has already happened, and we are therefore speaking in the past tense.

Examples Of “I Want To”

Now let’s see the difference that “I want to” presents for us. We’ll include some examples of when it’s appropriate to use “I want to.”

  1. I want to see my mom later.
  2. I want to go out tonight.
  3. I want to know what love is.
  4. I want to show you something fun.
  5. I want to be there for you.

In all of these examples, we’re expressing a direct desire to do something. The implication when using “I want to” means that the event hasn’t passed yet, and we’re hoping to do it with you at some future point.

Look at the difference between “I want to be there for you” and “I wanted to be there for you.” The first example shows that we intend on being there for somebody. However, the second one (using “wanted”) shows that we wished we could have been, but the time has already passed, and now it’s too late.

Synonyms For “I Wanted To” And “I Want To”

Finally, let’s look through some synonyms and alternatives of the two phrases. If you’re not happy with the differences and struggle to wrap your head around them, you can use one of these instead until you become more confident.

  • I would like to

This is the most common synonym, mainly used to announce that we’d like to do something in the future.

  • I wish to

This is more of a formal choice but works well in the same way as “want.” You can also say “I wished to” in the same manner.

  • I hope to

This is a nice synonym that shows that we’re interested in doing something.