Can you please help me with sentence "What I really want to do is direct."? I saw it written on a shirt - so without context. What is the meaning of it, how could it be said in other words?

  • 1
    Please provide us with some more context. Wherre did you find this sentence? Right now we cannot be sure what you're asking. Is this a sentence in the context of film making and does the speaker want to be a director? Or is this something else entirely?
    – Vlammuh
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 14:56
  • direct there is the bare infinitive. Compare: "What I really need to do is sleep"
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 15:35

4 Answers 4


The answers already given are literally correct, in that a director is someone who directs actors on a stage, and the person is saying that they would rather have that job.

However, they miss the cultural subtext. Hollywood, where almost all American films and TV shows are produced, is notorious for a very high degree of competition. It is said that every waiter and waitress in Hollywood would rather be an actor, and that every actor would rather be a director, and that every director would rather be a producer. It is a trope or cliche. These days, and really since the era of Mel Brooks' comedies, it's often delivered facetiously. The example that comes to mind, and I can't remember what film it was in, was of a Roman soldier viciously whipping slaves. Another actor asked him if he enjoyed doing that, and the soldier replied, "I guess, but what I really want to do is direct."

  • It's been too long for me to know for sure, but I presume it's History of the World, Part 1? If it's from a Mel Brooks film, that is.
    – Crazy Eyes
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 19:07

It sounds like someone working in the film or theater industry, maybe an actor. If so, they are saying that they want to be a director (of a film or play) instead of whatever they're doing now.


Supposing that this is in a context of film making, direct is a verb which means:

to be in charge of a film or play and tell the actors how to play their parts (source)

The construction of your sentence is used to emphasize what it is that the writer really wants to do. By placing what at the beginning of the sentence and direct at the end, you draw the reader's attention to it.

The construction of the phrase might be a little confusing, this is actually a subclause:

What I really want to do

and it acts as the subject in the main clause:

  • What I really want to do (subject)
  • is (verb)
  • direct (complement to the subject)

The writer restructured this sentence for reasons of emphasis. This is how it would look conveying the same meaning, but without emphasis:

I really want to direct.


It's a very old and longstanding cultural joke that refers to the idea that in creative fields, particularly Hollywood, everyone wants to be doing something they're not doing. "What I really want to do is direct" is shorthand for, I'm not happy with the glamorous job I already have, I want a different glamorous job.

Submitted by a long-time professional screenwriter/script consultant who works in Hollywood.

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