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What are your motivations for doing this course? What do you want to achieve? Are you wanting a practical outcome, are you just browsing, or do you want to further develop your understanding of a particular concept?

I'm taking an online course provided by the University of New South Wales. The passage above is taken from one of my assignments.

The use of "want" in the present continuous has got me puzzled. As far as I know, this verb can't be used in the present continuous because it's state. Why is it used in this tense then? Is it for some special emotional colouring? If so, why is "want" used in the present simple in the second part of the same sentence?

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  • Are you wanting - indicates a lack of something
  • Do you want - indicates a desire for something

Often people desire what they lack, and in the context of this sentence, these phrases mean the same thing.

However, there are other contexts where lacking something doesn't imply it is desired.

Happy to be ignorant, his knowledge was left wanting.

Is a sentence where the lack of knowledge and the desire of knowledge are not aligned.

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"Are you wanting" in the context means a desire to fulfill the immediate want as against 'do you want' seeks to convey a planned desire/want.

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I realize that websites point out that these are "not usually used" in the present progressive, but "not usually" does not mean forbidden. It just means to be careful, make sure it makes sense in your context.

One such context is that we can use the present continuous with a state verb if we want to emphasize that something is temporary or happening specifically around the present time. You are wanting to develop a skill, and you will soon acquire it upon passing the course. This context isolates the "wanting" in the current moment.

Another explanation, and one I like better, is that it is being used as a synonym for the verb to wish. That verb can indeed be used in the present progressive. The blurriness of time connoted here is contrasted with the more pointed "do you want" in the next sentence. Also, since the verb 'to browse' is in this tense, 'to want' is written in the same tense for the sake of agreement.

I came across another example at this link:

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"Are you wanting" is not a natural usage in standard AmE or BrE, and sounds somewhat foreign. Perhaps it's a regional idiomatic quirk in New South Wales or Australia, if not, then it could be a quirk of whoever wrote it.

Source: Native speaker.

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The phrase "are you wanting" is what is considered passive voice. "Do you want," is active voice. You will often see writing texts say not to use passive voice, but it gets used anyway.

The meaning of the two phrases is not the same, but if you were using them alone, "Do you want" would be the least likely to cause your grammar checker to complain.

In this context, it looks like they used it to avoid being repetitive and saying the same thing more than once.

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Just to start off, "are you wanting" is very formal and I can't say I have ever used it before.

If I had to take a guess I'd say "are you wanting" is more for far future than near future.

I hope this helps.

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