Difference between ต้อง and ต้องการ

by | Nov 14, 2020 | Thai

Many of my students often make a mistake of messing up ต้อง (dtông) and ต้องการ (dtông gaan). Mixing them up will result in a change in meaning. I will explain the difference between them.

Difference between ต้อง and ต้องการ


ต้อง (dtông) means must, have to, need to, required to, etc.

All of these words have exactly meaning if you think carefully.
Let’s see this example:

  • I must go to school.
  • I have to go to school.
  • I need to go to school.
  • I am required to go to school.

All the above will be translated to 1 sentence in Thai which is
ฉัน/ผม ต้องไปโรงเรียน (chăn / pŏm · dtông bpai rohng rian)

The formula is ต้อง + Verb. ต้อง will always be followed by a verb.


ต้องการ (dtông gaan) has 2 meanings: to need and to desire something.

These 2 meanings often confuse beginners. The first meaning (to need), is only used with nouns.

The formula for this one is ต้องการ + Nouns.


  • I need you.
    chăn/pŏm dtông gaan kun

  • I need air.
    chăn/pŏm dtông gaan aa-gàat

  • The kid needs him mom.
    dèk dtông gaan mâe

The next meaning is to desire or to really want something. It doesn’t have the ‘need to’, ‘must’, ‘required to’ feeling at all, even though it contains the word ต้อง (dtông)

The formula is: ต้องการ + Verb


  • I desire to live with you.
    pŏm dtông gaan yòo gàp kun

  • The kids really want to buy a snack.
    dèk dèk dtông gaan séu kà-nŏm

  • I really want to go travel in Europe.
    chăn dtông gaan bpai tîeow yú-ròhp

Translation dilemma

How would you translate “I need to live with you” to Thai? If literally, you will need to say ผมต้องอยู่กับคุณ (ต้อง + Verb = need to, must, have to), but remember that English speakers like to use the word ‘need to’ to say ‘I really really want to’. In this case, we should translate the phrase to ผมต้องการอยู่กับคุณ

Common mistake

Learners usually get confused between have to (required to) and have (to have something in possession) and also need to (required to) and need (desperate to have something/do something).

So let me summarize, so you clearly understand the distinction.

  • When you need to do something (a verb), then you will use ต้อง. I.e need to run.
  • When you need something (a noun), then you will use ต้องการ. i.e need water.
  • When you desire something you use ต้องการ. i.e I desire to go on a trip.

I hope you now clearly understand the differences between ต้อง and ต้องการ.

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