So..I understand the meaning of the phrase "not for (the) lack of trying" and then I've learned that "not for (the) want of trying" has the same definition. But how?! Is there a way to understand how 'want of trying' could mean the same thing as 'lack of trying'? (It's like, when I hear 'not for lack of trying', the meaning rings right away in my head, but with 'not for want of trying', my brain seems to pause and says "...what?")

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    Want noun. 1. The condition or quality of lacking something usual or necessary: stayed home for want of anything better to do.
    – dan
    Dec 26, 2019 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


This is not the verb to want in the sense of to wish for, but in its older sense of to be lacking in. The related noun want means the same as lack.

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    I find this use of want a bit "dated". As this NGram shows, not for lack of [effort, opportunity,...] has overtaken want in recent decades. Dec 26, 2019 at 12:51
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    The verbal use is certainly semi-obsolete, but expressions such as in want of and for want of a nail see are pretty well-established. Dec 26, 2019 at 13:45
  • I'd say in want of was well-established in Victorian times. But as that NGram shows, it was supplanted by in need of nearly a century and a half ago. Obviously we'd normally just say He needs X rather than He's in need of X, but He's in want of X is just "odd" to me. Dec 26, 2019 at 15:13

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