“I Wanted To” Vs. “I Want To” – Difference Explained

Marcus Froland

Are you struggling to understand the difference between ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to’?

Don’t worry, this article will explain the key differences between these two phrases with nine examples.

You’ll learn when each phrase is used and how to avoid common mistakes.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of the subtle nuances between ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to’.

Key Takeaways

  • ‘I wanted to’ is used to express past desires or intentions, while ‘I want to’ is used to express present desires.
  • ‘I wanted to’ implies a desire or thought but no further action, while ‘I want to’ represents a current goal that is actionable.
  • ‘I wanted to’ uses past tense, while ‘I want to’ uses present tense.
  • ‘I wanted to’ may imply regret or disappointment, while ‘I want to’ suggests optimism and hope.

Grammatical Uses of ‘I Wanted To’ and ‘I Want To’

You may be wondering what the difference is between ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to.’

The former is used when referring to a past desire or intention while the latter is used to express present desires. Both phrases are often followed by an infinitive verb and can be used in similar contexts. However, they still have different usages and implications.

For example, ‘I wanted to go’ implies that at one point there was a plan or intention but it has since been abandoned whereas ‘I want to go’ expresses current intent. Similarly, ‘I wanted to help’ suggests that the speaker intended on helping someone before but something prevented them from doing so while ‘I want to help’ signifies an active desire for assistance.

Additionally, ‘I wanted to call you’ implies regret at not having done something in the past whereas ‘I want to call you’ expresses a wish for communication in the present moment.

Ultimately, both phrases can be powerful tools of expression and understanding their differences helps one better communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Examples of ‘I Wanted To’

I’d like to discuss ‘I Wanted To’. Using this phrase implies that the speaker has already taken an action, but for some reason, the desired outcome was not achieved.

Here are four examples of how ‘I Wanted To’ is used:

  1. I wanted to go outside, but it was too cold.

  2. I wanted to buy a new car, but I didn’t have enough money saved up yet.

  3. I wanted to ask her out on a date, but I was too nervous.

  4. I wanted to cook dinner for my family, but didn’t have enough time before work.

In all these scenarios, the speaker attempted something – even if only in their mind – and they were not able to achieve what they set out to do due to external factors beyond their control.

Examples of ‘I Want To’

Understanding the difference between ‘I Wanted To’ and ‘I Want To’ can help you express your goals more clearly.

Expressing a desire in the present tense, such as with ‘I want to’, represents a current goal that is actionable.

On the other hand, expressing something in the past tense like with ‘I wanted to’ implies that it has been thought of or desired but not yet acted on.

For example, if you say ‘I want to go to college,’ it implies that you are taking steps towards doing so.

If you say ‘I wanted to go to college,’ this implies that you considered going but have not taken any further steps.

This subtle distinction offers clarity when communicating your aspirations and intentions.

Key Differences Between ‘I Wanted To’ and ‘I Want To’

The key difference between ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to’ is that the former implies intent without any action, while the latter suggests a goal that one is actively pursuing.

Here are 4 ways these two phrases differ:

  1. Verb Tense – ‘I wanted to’ uses past tense, while ‘I want to’ uses present tense.

  2. Time Frame – ‘I wanted to’ implies an action in the past, whereas ‘I want to’ describes an action now or in the future.

  3. Implication – When using ‘I wanted to’, there may be a sense of regret or disappointment for not taking action; however, with ‘I want to’, there is optimism and hope that something will happen soon.

  4. Commitment Level – Using ‘I wanted to’ implies that one was interested at some point but has since lost interest or moved on; using ‘I want to’, however, suggests that one is still committed and actively working towards their goal.

Common Mistakes With ‘I Wanted To’ and ‘I Want To’

It’s easy to make mistakes with ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to’, so it’s important to know the distinctions between them.

Common errors include using ‘wanted’ when you should use ‘want’, or vice versa, as well as omitting the preposition at the end of a sentence. For example, saying ‘I wanted do this’ instead of ‘I wanted to do this,’ is incorrect.

Another mistake is mixing up the tense in a sentence, such as saying ‘Yesterday I want to go shopping’ instead of ‘Yesterday I wanted to go shopping.’

Finally, there are also confusion between singular and plural forms; for instance, saying ‘He wants visit his friends’ instead of ‘He wants to visit his friends.’

Knowing these common mistakes can help you avoid making them and ensure that your English usage is accurate.


So, it’s important to understand the distinction between ‘I wanted to’ and ‘I want to’.

Using ‘I wanted to’ implies that there was a moment in time when you had the intention of doing something, but it may not be relevant now.

On the other hand, using ‘I want to’ implies that you currently have an intention or desire of doing something.

Knowing how and when to use each phrase can help you communicate more accurately and effectively.