Independently we can use "decide" with both declarative and interrogative clauses:

a. I have decided that I will marry John.

b. I have decided who I would marry.

And it's quite salient that "want to decide" can be followed by questions too:

c. I want to decide who I will marry. (something like, don't tell me who to marry.)

But is it natural to say (d)?:

d. I want to decide that I will marry John.

Thank you!

2 Answers 2


It's the nature of the verbs in this example that's causing the trouble.
Let's start by getting a different that-complement clause to contrast:

  • I want to decide that the train arrives before noon.

(Using I will marry John, again involving the speaker, complicates matters unnecessarily.)

Want and decide are both mental acts. Which means they're very abstract and hard to combine.
Since they're both mental acts and they both take complement clauses, try reversing them.
Want can't take a that-clause, so this is ungrammatical:

  • *I decided to want that the train arrives before noon.

but an infinitive complement is grammatically straightforward:

  • I decided to want the train to arrive before noon.

though strange -- how can one decide what to want? Desires are emotional, decisions are rational.

There is a reason why want takes an infinitive complement with either A-Equi or B-Raising:

  • I want to talk to the winner. [I want, I talk -- A-Equi configuration]
  • I want her to talk to the winner. [I want, she talks -- B-Raising configuration]

These are both events, or at least states, that have not happened at the time of wanting.
Want can refer to the subject's desire for the event or state to happen, and it's normally presupposed that it hasn't. It seems odd to say

  • I really want that portrait that's hanging over my mantel.

if in fact you already own it. But a common way to say that you are discarding it is to say

  • I don't want it any more.

which suggests that there is another sense in which one (covertly) wants one's actual possessions.

Want is in fact closely related to have, in its sense of 'possess', as well as many other senses.
If A wants X, then what A really wants is (for A) to have X.

  • I want that picture/a big wedding/a drink/a cigar/a baby/a long soak in the tub
  • I want to have that picture/a big wedding/a drink/a cigar/a baby/a long soak in the tub

This relation has been around for a long time, as can be seen in the parallelism of some idioms with have, though not others

  • have a tantrum/*want a tantrum
  • have a convulsion/*want a convulsion
  • have an operation/?*want an operation

Getting back to the strangeness of want to decide, we see it can make sense only if the subject has not yet made the decision. But the subject has clearly already formed a desire, which may or may not be independent of the decision.

Thus there is a conflict -- or, I should say, a vast uncertainty -- between the subject's mental states of desire and of indecision. This is the same reason why I decided to want sounds strange.

  • 1
    Thank you so much! I was thinking too that the presuppositions of "want" and "decide" somehow appear conflicting, and you made this very clear!
    – iyum
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 16:53
  • But consider the example "I want to tell you that your wife slept with your boss." It still confuses me - why can I have a desire to tell you something that is being told at the current time?
    – iyum
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 16:57
  • 1
    That's a different indirect use of want -- a polite way of mentioning without actually "saying" -- rather like asking a waiter "Would you bring me some water?", as if it were an entirely hypothetical question. There are a lot of fixed phrases, idioms, and constructions involving want and even more involving have; and plenty of them don't make any kind of logical sense. Have is an auxiliary verb, and want is a modal (like its cousins will and would), so there is plenty of irregularity to go around. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:01
  • 1
    I see. So the grammaticality of "want to tell you that p" is made possible by more of a pragmatic effect, and "*want to decide that p" a semantic one. Thank you so much!!
    – iyum
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:07

According to me, no.

Ideally you would not use 'want to' followed by a declarative clause. Because the phrase 'want to' suggests something that is yet to be done.

  • 2
    Thank you. What you pointed out is very important when considering "want" independently, but things become quite complicated when "want" is stacked with other verbs. Apparently you can say "I want to tell you that I'm pregnant" or "I want to confess that I secretly got married."
    – iyum
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:10
  • 2
    Yes, things do get complicated with complement clauses; every clause has a verb, and object complements can get stacked in all kinds of ways. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:35
  • @iyum Yes that's correct ! But when you use "I want to tell you that I'm pregnant" or "I want to confess that I secretly got married.", If you notice the declarative clauses are all stating actions that have occurred already or that have happened. But When you use "I want to decide that I will marry John" - it indicates an action that is not yet completed. Thanks.
    – KarunaL
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 7:28

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