want to

1a We all know what want to plus the infinitive form of a verb means: it's used to refer to an action or activity that you would like to engage in, e.g. I want to read; you want to go downtown, we want to stay here, etc. 

However, it has another usage in American English (I'm not sure about other dialects) that I'm certain you've all seen or heard and probably didn't know what to make of it because it looks like someone telling you what you want, as in this meme.

The answer's very simple: it's basically just a more emphatic way to say should and it can appear in several word combinations and tenses with different nuances of meaning. For instance, in this meme and the example below, it's in the plain present. It can have a serious, warning tone or it can simlply be used to give general instructions on how to do something.

Here, what the owner of the car is basically saying is «I highly recommend you be very careful about how you describe my car because she's really sensitive» as if he were talking about a real person. Note that although we write want to, we normally pronounce it wanna in this and most cases.

1b The combination may/might want to is also used to strongly suggest a course of action, but in a detached, cautious way

Depending on the tone, this can range from a simple instruction to friendly recommendation or warning. In either case, it expresses a certain caution on the part of the speaker; you add may/might because you don't want to sound like you're categorically telling someone what to do (as in the meme above) but simply suggesting, quite strongly, that they do something that you believe is in their best interest. As you can imagine, this version is very often used sarcastically — as if you really cared about the listener's best interest, but don't (as in the meme to the left).

The nuance at work here is «I really think it'd be a good idea for you to...» or «I'm not telling you what to do, but I highly recommend you...» or «I seriously think it'd be in your best interest to...».

In this meme, this guy thinks he's the absolute shit just because he got all of five likes, one comment and share on his Facebook post. The funny part is the fact that he's so "generously" suggests that you be careful to speak to him with the respect owed someone with his amazing online influence. 🤣 

Again, he's not telling you what to do, but he strongly recommends it in a friendly, detached (sarcastic) way. The humor here is that by using may, it sounds like he's giving you a friendly warning... for your own good! 😂

Here, some man has obviously grabbed this woman and she's letting him know that it's going to be in his best interest to release her before she reacts violently or takes other serious measures.

Here again, the cat is being very "generous" with his advice. Someone obviously said something to him that he didn't like, and he's giving them an extremely friendly warning to rephrase what they said, i.e. to find a nicer way to say it, while he looks at his sharp claws, hoping he won't have to use them! 😅

Note that going to want to is also used in this threatening way to give someone fair warning before reacting violently or retaliating:

Here, we have a couple, obviously on their first date. Apparently, he's been showing her picture on his phone... and he's not done. He still has 12,000 pictures of his boat to show her and he gives her fair warning that she should definitely order another drink because it's going to be one long-ass evening! 🤣 She looks like she's about to open a vein!

Here's some friendly advice for someone who takes themself too seriously. Basically, the meaning is «I've got important news for you! I strongly recommend that you stop taking yourself so seriously because everybody else has already stopped.»

1c The forms will want to and going to want to are used to give sound advice or a serious warning based on your own personal experience or knowledge... or just based on common sense

Unlike may/might want to, which are somewhat detached and cautious, the forms with future will and going to are quite direct, almost predicting what the best plan of action is going to be in a future situation. Because they imply a foreknowledge of things to a certain degree, they can sound quite categorical and authoritative, or informative and helpful, as in the snippet below.


Note that combination going to want to is commonly pronounce gonna wanna.

Here, the grandfather is obviously talking from experience: he's been to the DMV several times and knows that there's always a long line.

Arthur walks to his son's place on a Sunday morning and finds his teenage grandson studying in the dining room.


Arthur: Hey there, Ronnie, what's shakin'?

Ronnie: Hi Grampy. I'm studying for my driver's license test tomorrow.

Arthur: You're going to want to get to the DMV as early as possibly; there's always a huge line. What do you say I pick you up at six tomorrow — you can use my car for the test.

_____________⦿ What's shakin'? | What's going on?⦿ DMV | Department of Motor Vehicles; we have one in every American city, and it's where you go take a driving test and get your driver's license. Sometimes, you can renew your license through the mail, but in some cases, you have to do it in person at the DMV. When you get your first license, you have to take a driving test and a written test.⦿ What do you say we... | Used to preface a suggestion. Here, we never use that after say but go straight into the suggestion: What you say we stop for an ice-cream? 

In this meme, we have two chess pieces: the knight is giving the rook directions to get somewhere. He uses you'll want to because he obviously knows the way and is speaking from personal knowledge of the neighborhood. It's funny because he's telling the rook to move the way knights move on the chessboard instead of giving him a more direct route. 

The verb head means to start walking or driving in a particular direction or to a particular destination: I'm heading to Starbucks after class. Want to go with?

Here again, the one officer is advising the newer one based on his work experience. A ticket is a citation for a parking or traffic violation. Police officers have a pad of these tickets that they write tickets from... but they're usually much smaller 😅

I'd like to thank Galia P. and Ilya K. for requesting this page!