How to ask for things- a quick guide with ” 要 (yào)”


Each of us has our own needs and wants. For some, that may include getting the latest copy of FIFA. Others might want a job promotion and a raise. Some might just want a hug.

That means we have to voice our wants for them to be satisfied. How would you do that in Chinese? Here are a few ways to do so.


The most straightforward way to ask for something is to use 要(yào). 要 translates as “want”. The pictogram of the word is of a woman, “女”,with two hands pointing towards her midsection. The original meaning of the word “要” was “waist”; later, the hands shifted upwards and the modern form of “要” symbolises the hands on top of the woman’s head.

However, to some people, just using “要” may seem rude as it’s quite direct. It may be common in English to ask for something with “want”. If you do the same in Chinese, you risk sounding like an entitled child throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get an ice cream cone. Who’d want to give that kid an ice cream cone for throwing a tantrum? I wouldn’t.

How could you sound more polite? Package it. You could add something in front of it to make it sound less like an order. For example, “我想要“ (Wǒ xiǎng yào), which means “I would like”, sounds more like a request than plain “我要“ in Chinese. This works for everyone and is a way to make your phrase sound more courteous.


Another phrase to add in front of “要” could be “麻烦你” (Máfan nǐ), which means “excuse me”. If added to a whole sentence, an example would be: “麻烦你,我可以要一块蛋糕吗?” (Máfan nǐ, wǒ kěyǐ yào yīkuài dàngāo ma?) This translates to “Excuse me, could I have a slice of cake?”. To a lot of people, going the extra mile to frame a sentence nicely makes a difference.


Don’t believe me? Next time you order food at a Chinese restaurant, try “麻烦你,我想要“ instead of “我要“ and see how much of a difference that makes.


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