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A post says

The -ing form is more informal. It also usually applies to a longer time period. You will also usually hear it in the negative form:

"I don't want anybody in the class talking during the test."

I guess I understand the basic rules of want sb to do sth vs. want sb doing sth.

"Want" meaning ‘wish’ or ‘desire’

The teacher wants her to do the exams again next year. (object + to-infinitive)

"Want" meaning ‘need’

Your hair wants cutting.

I'd just like to double check my understanding about "want sb doing sth".

The first quotation does not seem get the point, the key is "wish vs. need", NOT formal vs. informal.

Because that is a test, "not to talk" is need rather than wish.

In other words, in the context of the test, "want sb doing sth" is more appropriate than "want sb to do sth".

Is my understanding correct? Could someone please give a hint? Thanks in advance.


"sb" refers to "somebody" or "someone"

"sth" is written abbreviation for "something".

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I see my understanding of the question was wrong. My apologies. I should have asked for clarification before writing my first answer. I will leave it standing for now because I think it is relevant, at least in part.

You want to double-check your understanding of "want somebody doing something" with regards to the word "want." You have questions about the following sentence because it uses the word differently than you think it should:

"I don't want anybody in the class talking during the test."

That sentence is perfectly correct. I know because my teachers said it--or similar statements--many a time. Admittedly, I never knew there were any rules about how to use the word "want"; one just uses it without thinking. But I am looking through your basic rules to see which fits best and why.

Want meaning ‘wish’ or ‘desire'

Given the sentence structure, it seems the most appropriate rule is "Want meaning ‘wish’ or ‘desire'." The following sentence is perhaps the closest fit to use for an example:

She said I could have her old bike, but I don’t want it.

The important part of this sentence is:

I don't want __.

What don't "I" want?

Answer: "it," meaning "her old bike."

The teacher in your sentence is also saying:

"I don't want _____________________."

What don't "I" want?

Answer: anyone in class talking during the test.

This differs with my first answer where I agreed that "want" means "need." In that answer, I focused on the actual meaning of the word. Now I am focusing on the grammar rules, which is what you have been doing all along.

Want meaning ‘need’

Here is the grammar rule re need:

Want meaning ‘need’

Two examples they provide are:

Your hair wants cutting. (needs to be cut)

That cupboard wants clearing out.

In my part of the world, we don't say it like that; we say, "It's time to cut your hair," or "Your hair needs a trim." Likewise with the cupboard:

"It's time to clear out that cupboard."

"That cupboard needs to be cleared out"

For the teacher to use "want" that way, the sentence would say something like this:

"This class wants no one talking during the test."

Saying it that way, the teacher would risk the students disagreeing, or finding it silly, in the same way as with the statement in my first answer, "I don't need anyone in the class talking during the test."

To do, or doing

Back to "want somebody doing something." Just now I reread that post. The answer says it doesn't really matter which one one uses: to do, or doing. I agree. What matters is the sentence one is saying, the context of the situation, and whom one is talking to. It also matters what it is one is asking for.

I think this applies to all cultures and all languages: A parent or teacher can use different language or terminology to demand or request something from children than children can use to ask for something from their teachers or parents. In other words, superiors have the power to withhold privileges and subordinates must be humble if they want their wishes granted. Thus, "I want" may have to be expressed somewhat differently depending who is saying it to whom. Maybe this is off-topic.

Back on topic. If it does not matter whether we say "to do" or "doing," is there a difference in meaning between (does it matter which I say):

"I don't want anybody in the class to talk during the test."

and

"I don't want anybody in the class talking during the test."

Both are grammatically correct. The first one might imply that students are not allowed to raise their hands to ask a question, while the second one might impart the message that students should not chatter among themselves. However, I can't be sure of this. A lot depends on the communication patterns of teacher and students, the general culture of that specific classroom, and how people in that geographical location generally speak. Language is not set in stone. I say give it a try and see if it works.

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  • The answer is really informative and helpful. Thank you so much. "it doesn't really matter which one one uses" seems to indicate that it still mean the same thing if I substitute "to do" for "doing", and get "I don't want anybody in the class to talk during the test", is my understanding correct? – WXJ96163 Apr 17 at 14:26
  • I think so. I added another piece to the answer to address your question on that. – Sarah Bowman Apr 17 at 16:31
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NOTE: After writing this answer, the question was improved to clarify what was required, and I wrote a new answer. Since I refer to this answer in my new answer, I will leave this answer standing.

I'm trying to understand your question. I think you want to know which of the basic rules applies to this sentence:

"I don't want anybody in the class talking during the test."

I agree that "need" is the meaning. However, to use the word "need," we would restate the sentence this way:

"I need everyone in the class to be quiet during the test."

To clarify what kind of "quiet" is meant, most teachers would probably add, "No talking," like this:

"I need everyone in the class to be quiet during the test. No talking."

Students will then know that dropping a pencil won't break the "quiet" rule so long as they don't talk about it and say things like "Oops! Where'd it go?"

The reason for having to restate the sentence is that "need quiet" is positive, but "don't want talking" is negative.

I suppose we could say:

"I don't need anyone in the class talking during the test."

That, however, would be rather ambivalent because of the way we use the word "need." Need means necessity. Obviously, the students know that the teacher does not have a necessity for them to talk. So what else is new? That--so what else is new--is a sarcastic response to a silly statement. In other words, the students would find it a silly thing for the teacher to say.

Thus, the teacher has to tell the students what the necessity is, i.e. "quiet, no talking." They understand that.

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  • The answer is really informative and helpful. Thank you so much. I agree with you, "quiet, no talking" is clearer and shorter. I was trying to figure out the usage of "want sb doing sth" Would you please explain a bit more why the sentence "I don't want anybody in the class talking during the test" is not appropriate? – WXJ96163 Apr 17 at 0:48
  • What do "sb" and "sth" mean? I read all your links but I could not figure out what those letters mean. Therefore, I don't know the meaning of "want sb doing sth." I need that information to answer your question in more detail. Thank you. Also, I don't think there is anything wrong with the sentence about not talking in class. Can you write your question more clearly so I know exactly what it is you want to know? Thanks. – Sarah Bowman Apr 17 at 2:22
  • Thank you. I added the abbreviation just now. – WXJ96163 Apr 17 at 5:22
  • I wrote a new answer now in response to the clarification of your question. – Sarah Bowman Apr 17 at 13:07

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