Ssh, don’t tell anyone but… you can use 「を」 with the 「たい」 form

I remember reading or hearing a long time ago that you can’t use the object particle 「を」 with the 「たい」 form of the verb. (If you are unfamiliar with the 「たい」 form, click here.) Now that’s complete rubbish but I can see where the logic came from. When a verb is converted to the 「たい」 form, it becomes an adjective describing that somebody or something wants to do the verb. Grammatically, it conjugates and works just like any other adjective. Subsequently, because the object particle describes the object of an action, it doesn’t make any sense to have an adjective have a direct object, ie “Bob big apple”. So in conclusion, using the object particle with the 「たい」 form is grammatically incorrect because the 「たい」 form is an adjective. You should use 「が」 or sometimes 「は」. So all was well, and we could flog students for making that mistake in peace.

But reality tells a different story. Maybe it was modern Western influence on the language or maybe some crazy grammar-fanatic educators forgot to check reality when creating the rule. I’m not an expert on the history of Japanese linguistics so I don’t really know. But whatever the case, all I know is that people today use the 「を」 particle with the 「たい」 form all the time.

I can already see the next question about to come out of your mouth. You want to know what the difference is between using 「を」 and something else right? Well, I’m going to see if anybody is still reading this blog by letting you peeps try to figure it out in the comments. I’ll write the answer in an another post.

Here are some example sentences for you to chew on.

1) 続き読みたい。
2) 続き読みたい。
3) 続き読みたい。
4) どうでもいい。

18 thoughts on “Ssh, don’t tell anyone but… you can use 「を」 with the 「たい」 form

  1. Heh, I’ve never heard of that rule.

    As far as I’m concerned, i-“adjectives” are just verbs anyway, so it never bothered me.

  2. As far as I can guess …

    Aren’t 1 and 3 essentially the same, while 2 means “The continuation wants to read”?

  3. Well, you just destroyed my one way of differentiating between 「が」 and 「を」. Thanks.

  4. My textbook said you could use both and I’ve asked different japanese people what the difference is.
    The only concrete answer i got is that を makes it more like you _really_ want to do the thing you’re talking about.
    But as usual different people said different things so I have no idea.

  5. I’m being obtuse I know but :-
    1) 続きを読みたい。
    2) 続きが読みたい。
    3) 続きは読みたい。

    What’s the difference !!!!

  6. There was a rule? I’ve never been told that I couldn’t use ‘を’ with the ‘たい’ form.

    Having said that, I’m not seeing the differences between examples 1-3. 3 seems to be a more emphatic form of 1 , but that’s all I can think of. 🙁

  7. It’s funny, I noticed the exact same thing while I was living in Japan… couldn’t tell you the difference in usage though.

  8. I’m basing this completely on intuition, but…

    続きを読みたい is more emphatic than 続きが読みたい。

    続きは読みたい is more like いいかげんにして。他の話題は興味がないけど、(この話題の)続きは興味があって読みたい。

    Am I close?

  9. I guess, in this context「を」means ‘really-really want that thing’,「が」is just standard and neutral and「は」means ‘want THAT as opposed to something else’.

  10. Ok… I’m not sure if I remember this correctly but here goes…

    Lets use 食べたい

    If I remember right… using を emphasises the fact that you want to eat and using が emphasises that you want to eat specifically an apple. (or is that the other way around)

    and I’ve never seen は used… but I guess it would be for contrasting/comparing.

    hope I got that right… if not, 教えてください

  11. Even by that logic, doesn’t the negative (-ない) ending of verbs also conjugate like an adjective? By extension of that argument, you wouldn’t be able to use を with negative verbs either. I wonder where that originated.

    Great blog, I’m really enjoying it 🙂 I only just stumbled across it today, but I’ve been devouring it.

  12. Hello, all.
    I’m a Japanese that has happened to come here. If I may interject on the subject, I’d say the following.

    The 「たい」 form has the same inflection as an “adjective” like 「大きい」(big), but it is not an “adjective”. The 「たい」 is an anxiliary verb. As you know, it adds another meaning to a verb. The 「たい」 means something like “want to”, “wish to”, “would like to” etc. In short, you can say your wish by adding the 「たい」 to an verb. (Of course, the verb needs to be inflected. e.g. 「読む」 is altered to 「読み」 so that it may connect with the 「たい」)

    「読みたい」 means “(I) want to read (something)”, so the 「を」 relates to the verb 「読む(read)」. Thus, the 「を」 does not conflict with the grammatical rule.

    The difference of the three expressions:
    1) 続きを読みたい。
    2) 続きが読みたい。
    3) 続きは読みたい。

    When one says the phrase “続きを読みたい”, he/she means simply he/she wants to read the continuation.

    When one says the phrase “続きが読みたい”, he/she sounds as if he/she wants to read the continuation, not something else.

    When one says the phrase “続きは読みたい”, he/she sounds as if he/she wants to read the continuation though he/she does not want to read something else.

    Thank you for reading my poor English. Wish the above could be of any help to you.

  13. QS is right that 〜たい is originally not an adjective. It’s the modern form of the 助動詞 「たし」, which conjugated like an adjective back then and still does so today. In the example りんご(が/を)食べたい, the question of which particle to use boils down to this:

    Is a 助動詞 just an add-on, something you clip onto a verb to alter meaning but not part of speech, or does its conjugation type actually change the verb’s part of speech? If the former, use を; if the latter, use が.

    The way I see it, a 助動詞 is a 動詞 at heart (the kanji make this clear), no matter what its conjugation type. By this logic, りんごを食べたい is correct, while りんごが食べたい is a mistake that’s been popularized by how much 〜たい looks like an adjective.

    The same logic applies to 〜ない, the negative 助動詞 that Ryan cited. ~ない conjugates like an adjective, but that doesn’t mean it *is* an adjective; it’s a helping verb (as QS points out) that extends a verb. This is why 人が食べない動物 and 人を食べない動物 are completely different animals. 〜ない is a verb at heart and so takes を, not が.

    In the case of 〜ない, it’s easy to see why people might confuse it with an adjective. Though 〜ない derives from the 助動詞「ず」, it looks an awful lot like the adjective 無し (present-day 無い). In the case of 〜たい, there’s no corresponding adjective たい that means 欲しい. (Interestingly, there was a 助動詞「まほし」that looks an awful lot like this adjective. Perhaps a similarity between the two, like that between 〜ない and 無い, helped phase out 〜まほし in favor of 〜たし?)

    Given the similarity between 〜ない and 無い and lack of a corresponding similarity between 〜たい and an adjective たい, we’d expect the Japanese to be less sure about which particle to use with 〜ない than about which to use with 〜たい. But it seems to be the other way around! なぜか, the Japanese appear to remember 〜ない’s roots as a helping verb while confusing 〜たい with an adjective. なぜかというと, I have no idea. That’s where my reasoning stops bearing fruit.

    Whatever the reason, it ought to be clear by now that りんごを食べたい and りんごが食べたい mean, from a grammatical standpoint, exactly the same thing. The only difference between them is that the former is logically correct and the latter is a popular mistake. Yet many of these posters have Japanese friends who sense different nuances in these two sentences. I’d say that these nuances are entirely based on a sense of what が and を usually do in *other situations* (i.e., situations that don’t involve 〜たい).

    So which particle should you use before 〜たい? If common usage is more important to you than logic (and isn’t it to most people?), use both–specifically, use the one with the right nuance as determined by your Japanese friends. That the nuance is felt only by false analogy won’t hurt your communication a bit. On the other hand, if logic and etymology are more important to you, stick with を, the same as you would before 〜ない.

    I know particles weren’t as widely used in 古語 as in 現代語, but if anyone could dig up a few examples of a particle being used before 〜たし or 〜まほし, we’d have an answer backed not only by logic but by precedent as well.

  14. Kendall, some of your explanations are correct, but they don’t tell you anything about the inner structure of Japanese and can’t be used as a logical argument why たい shouldn’t be regarded as an adjective.

    If you are just referring to Hashimoto’s grammar it’s true that たい is described as an 助動詞, but it’s easy to see that this definition is based on the comparison with other languages. 食べ and たい for example share only one accent, but there are several other criteria, which make them very different to something like “want” and “eat”. All of your explanations why it looks like an adjective are proof that it can be defined as an adjective in a morphosyntactical sense: It inflects like an adjective, its complement (が) is the same to that of an adjective and that’s why it can be explained like an adjective. I didn’t make this up, you can find this in many new grammars as well. I don’t see any point why you should go

    Japanese-Japanese dictionaries and Japanese learning books will also show you that が is not a wrong usage, but a quasi standard. Furthermore there is a pragmatical difference between を and が with ない that makes the usage of が very important for Japanese speakers. Just search for linguistic papers about this topic and you know what I mean.

    Furthermore I don’t really see why you are arguing that たい isn’t an adjective because of diachronic means. If you look at the usage of です in the past, it is very likely that it was only used by some prostitutes, but nowdays it is widely accepted as the quasi standard for polite speech. It’s funny, but it can’t be any logical explanation why it shouldn’t be used by a good looking man like me, because I live in the present time and not in the edo period.

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