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Without being given a specific context, can one tell the difference between "Я хочу" and "Мне хочется"? I have already seen this question, but it didn't answer mine, which is more about a general distinction between both.

To make my question more precise, I have been told by some Russian friends that:

  • "Я хочу" is used to express a strong desire for something concrete and real, which will most probably be fulfilled in the near future
  • "Мне хочется" is used to express a wish, something that one would like to happen but not necessarily in the near future

So:

  1. Is there anything (dictionary, book, etc.) backing my friends' feeling/theory?
  2. If this feeling/theory is right, then what would be the difference between "Мне хочется" and "Я хотел бы"?
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  • hi, you ask about a phrase using it in two different moods once as я хочу and another time as я хотел бы, you may want to decide between them or ask about both, because mood affects meaning – Баян Купи-ка Jan 16 '18 at 22:16
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Although all the previous answers are correct I would like (мне хочется) to bring closer attention to the following difference of these two phrases:

Мне хочется - means that the person saying this phrase does not fully take responsibility for this desire. For example, physiological needs: мне хочется есть, пить, спать ... (can be translated to English as 'I want to eat/drink/sleep' but also can be translated, at least for 'eat', 'I feel like something' (usually said with the gesture of hand rotating around the tummy). It can be not physiological too. For example, "Мне хочется верить, что это не так." - I almost have to/made to want to believe that this is not the case. It is not your choice, there is an urge, which is difficult to resist. I guess a good translation for мне хочется in English would be feel impulse. But хочется is weaker than impulse. Impulse = сильно хочется.

Я хочу - usually implies conscious desire to which you commit. Я хочу научиться играть на флейте. (I want to learn how to play flute) - expresses kind of your commitment to learn playing flute in this case.

Я хочу - is a more generic expression. It also can be used for physiological needs. When you say "я хочу" you do not specify whether you want it automatically or by your own choice.
If somebody is a foreigner and does not know the nuances of language, they can say the generic phrase "я хочу" in all above situations and they will be understood.

This is one of the examples where it kind of 'beats me' that such a basic phrase in Russian needs long explanation in English. :-)

Я хотел бы - is more straightforward case. It is сослагательное (aka условное) наклонение in Russian, which is more or less directly corresponds to English conditional mood. In Russian it is formed by adding particle бы to the verb in past tense: хотел бы, сделали бы. In English - by adding would in front of bare infinitive: would want, would do. The meaning is similar in both languages: the action of the verb will take place only, if some conditions are fulfilled.

Also: бы and would in both languages are used for softening the statement. (See here (in Russian)). Direct translation of 'я хотел бы' would be 'I would want' but 'I would like' is more commonly used. Я хочу открыть окно. I want to open the window. (When you ask it in a room with other guy sitting close to the window) would sound more blunt than я хотел бы открыть окно. I would like to open the window (assuming the continuation if you do not mind).

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  • Thank you for your very detailed answer! Can you just explain what is the difference then between "Мне хочется" and "Я хотел бы"? – filaton Jan 17 '18 at 11:16
  • @filaton I will add to the answer. – farfareast Jan 18 '18 at 2:16
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You certainly weren't misled by your Russian friends, the difference is in urgency.

Мне хочется can be translated as I have a wish/desire
Я хочу - as I want/wish/desire
Я хотел бы - as I would like (to)

I hope I get the connotations of these English phrases right.

To my ear the difference between Мне хочется and Я хотел бы is in register with the latter being of a higher one, which is the case for conjunctive in English as well.

There's also Мне хотелось бы which is largely identical in meaning to Я хотел бы (with slightly lesser urgency) but still more refined in register as it sounds less egotistic and passionate.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Can you explain what is the difference then between "Мне хочется" and "Я хотел бы"? – filaton Jan 17 '18 at 11:16
  • please check the updated answer – Баян Купи-ка Jan 17 '18 at 11:49
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Мне хочется usually means that you're not doing whatever you're wanting in near future (but invite everybody else to help you with fulfilling the wish in question)

Я хочу пойти погулять - I want to go for a walk, and probably already putting hat on

Мне хочется пойти погулять - I would like to go for a walk, but something prevents it right now - maybe something I need to do before, maybe somebody doesn't let me to, maybe there's some objective reason.

Я хотел бы погулять - Someone is preventing it right now, but their verdict can be appealed, and that's what you are doing.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Can you explain what is the difference then between "Мне хочется" and "Я хотел бы"? – filaton Jan 17 '18 at 11:16
  • @filaton updated answer – alamar Jan 17 '18 at 17:48

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