I just met, again, someone using the phrase "willing". He said: "I'm willing to go." Why did he not use "want to"?

Is there any difference between the words? Any situation where you would just use one of both?


So I did some research about it, still I'm confused about it.

I found a reference here explaining the difference. It says that "want to" means things that I really wish to do or happen. On the other hand, "willing" means to be able to do something but it isn't really the number one thing which is a priority.

But what is about a sentence like "I'm willing to wait."? "I want to wait" doesn't sound as it could mean the same. In my opinion, "ready" could be good replacement for "willing" in this content. So, when do I exactly use "willing" and when "want to"?

  • @StoneyB I just added some further information. I hope that is what you wanted me to do.
    – Zerotime
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 1:04

4 Answers 4


If I go to the movie theater for a 1pm showing of 'the Hobbit' and tickets are sold out for that showing, but there are still tickets for the 3pm showing, then a friend of mine might

want to wait for the next showing (3pm). This means he really desires to wait two hours.

but someone else in our group might

not be willing to wait, which means they really want to leave and probably will, which could be big trouble if he's the one with the car and we don't have another way to get home.

On the other hand the second person might say he's willing to wait. This doesn't usually express a strong desire to wait, but at least he will wait, rather than leave. It can mean that he prefers to leave, but that he'll wait just because the others want to stay and wait.

So willing to wait can show a reluctance to wait. But wanting to wait definitely expresses the desire to wait.


Want actively indicates desire or immediate intention. If you say you want to do X, you are going to do it.

Willing is passive. If you are willing to do X, there's an external condition implied or specified that you are waiting for before you do X. You may end up not doing X.

I want to wait.

You are saying you are going to wait. There may be a reason, but that reason has happened or is happening now.

I'm willing to wait.

This strongly implies you are not doing something until whatever you are waiting for has happened.


You want to do something which you actively desire because it benefits you in some way:

  • You want to go swimming because it refreshes you and tones your muscles, making you irresistible to whichever sex attracts you (and maybe the other one, too).
  • You want to go to the University of the Southwest Ozarks because only there can you study with the celebrated costume historian Prof. Taylor Sartorius.
  • You want to overthrow the regime of the despot Czûlgymh and exact terrible revenge for the murder of your brother.

You are willing to do something which you do not actively desire but which does not repel you either, or at least is not so unpleasant that you refuse to do it. You typically indicate your willingness to do something which somebody else wants you to do or which is a precondition to your achieving something which you do desire. For instance:

  • You dislike washing dishes, but you are willing to do the dishes if your friend will make you his famous weeping leg of lamb with roast potatoes.

  • You don't much care for jazz, preferring the gloriously intricate music of Bach, but you are willing to go to a jazz club to entertain your significant other who absolutely worships Wynton Marsalis.

  • You can't imagine a dinner without large quantities of red meat, and you really haven't got the money to spend on books; but you are willing to live off of potatoes and cabbage for two months in order to buy your own copy of McCawley's Syntactic Phenomena in English, which has transformed your understanding of English grammar.


In "I want to do sth" the focus is on wish, in "I'm willing to do" the focus is on will/volition. Practically there is only a slight difference in meaning, but one may say the frequency of the two expressions is different. "to want to do" is a common expression whereas "to be willing to do" is not a frequent expression.

In negative form "willing" is justified: I'm not willing to tolerate this behaviour.

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