'I Wanted to' vs 'I Want To' When Referring to the Future

By Shanea Patterson, updated on November 4, 2022

Do you say ‘I wanted to’ go to the movies or ‘I want to’ go to the movies? Well, both are technically correct to say. But if you’re referring to the future tense of the phrase, there’s only one correct way to express that. This article will cover that and teach you how to use both phrases in their correct tenses.

Here’s the short answer: When referring to the future, you’d use the term ‘I want to,’ rather than ‘I wanted to,’ which refers to the past.

‘I Wanted To’ vs. ‘I Want To’ – Difference Explained

To say ‘I want to’ do something to someone means the thing hasn’t happened yet. That means it’s in future tense, meaning you’re anticipating an event happening that you may want to participate in.

To say ‘I wanted to’ do something means you wanted to do something in the past, something that already happened or passed.

Expressing a Future Action 

When expressing a future action, you’re talking about an event or action that hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, the words you use should reflect that. Let's take a brief look at the difference between past, present, and future tenses.

Past Tense vs. Present Tense vs. Future Tense

Learning about the past, present, and future tenses is a basic part of English grammar. So you should know that when using the past, present, and future tenses, the verbs tend to change.

Take a look at some examples using the word ‘read’:

  • I read three books every month. (present)
  • I will read three books every month. (present)
  • I read three books last year. (past)
  • I’m going to read another 10 books this year. (future)

Here are some examples using ‘go/went’:

  • I am going to the store to get eggs right now. (present)
  • I went to the store to get eggs yesterday. (past)
  • I’m going to the store tomorrow to get eggs. (future)

The past is used to describe things that happened already, whether they happened earlier, last week, last month, or last year. The present describes things that are happening right now. And the future describes things that haven't yet happened, whether they're happening later, tomorrow, next week, next month, or five years from now.

Some verbs can be pretty tricky to use in different tenses, such as words/phrases like 'has' or 'it has.'

Definition of Want

The word ‘want’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to be needy or destitute,” “to have or feel the need,” “to be necessary or needed,” and “to desire to come, go, or be.”

Another set of definitions include “to fail to possess especially in a customary or required amount: lack,” to have a strong desire for,” to have an inclination to: like,” “to have need of: require,” “to suffer from the lack of,” “to wish or demand the presence of,” and “to hunt and seek in order to apprehend.”

The noun definition is “deficiency, lack,” “something wanted: need, desire,” and “personal defect: fault.”

Some synonyms of the word include:

  • Ache (for)
  • Covet
  • Crave
  • Desire
  • Die (for)
  • Hanker (for or after)
  • Hunger (for)
  • Jones (for)
  • Salivate (for)
  • Thirst (for)
  • Yearn (for)

How to Use Both in a Sentence 

Now that we’ve got the definition and the correct usage out of the way let’s take a look at a few sentences using both the past and present tense of the phrase ‘I want to.’

Take a look at some examples of how to use ‘I wanted to’ correctly:

  • I wanted to go to the movies last night; why didn’t you wake me up?
  • I wanted to catch the 4:15 bus, but I was late, so I missed it.
  • I wanted to be a ballerina for Halloween, but I couldn’t find a costume that fit me.

Now, let’s look at some examples of how to use ‘I want to’ correctly:

  • I want to go see the new Black Panther movie when it comes out.
  • I want to go fishing this spring when I get my fishing rod.
  • I want to visit Paris, Italy, and Germany this summer.

Concluding Thoughts on ‘I Wanted To’ vs. ‘I Want To’

 Learning how to use the past, present, and future tenses can be frustrating when you’re just learning English, especially when the words seem to change out of nowhere (such as when you’re saying you’re going somewhere versus you went somewhere).

Learning the correct tense to use in your writing is essential to your success using the language in everyday life, which includes knowing when to use Have Been, Has Been, and Had Been, as well as when it's appropriate to use She Has or She Have.

But luckily, we’ve created an entire library of articles on confusing words for anyone struggling with tricky spellings, confusing usage, or past/present/future tense.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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