A correct way to use wollen is

Ich will schlafen

where wollen is used as a verb and schlafen as an adverb.

We can also have

Ich habe ... wollen

where wollen is now used as a second part of the verb (weak verb is called?).

I don't really understand why it can be used in two similar sentences (I want to sleep / I want to have) but occupy different roles in the sentence. I'd expected the second example to be Ich will haben or the first example to be Ich schlafe wollen. Well, to be the same.

What is the rule in German defining this kind of usage? I want to be able to read about it and better understand rather than trying multiple ways of making sentences until I find one, by mistake, that is correct.

  • 2
    You appear to be confused about the meaning of the sentences; you should have said (in English) what you think they mean. The German sentence corresponding to I want to have sth. is indeed Ich will etw. haben. The other construction is unrelated.
    – chirlu
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 8:31
  • your second sentence would be translated as i have wanted [to do something], not, as you seem to think i want [to do something]
    – Burki
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


Ich will schlafen. I'd like to sleep.
Ich will ein Kuscheltier haben. I'd like to have a stuffed animal.

If you want something, you can go with "Ich will ... [verb]", or "Ich möchte ... [verb]".

The other construct uses the "Ersatzinfinitv".
But first things first. As you know, you use the "Partizip Perfekt" for the present perfect.

Ich habe geschlafen. I slept.

If you want to indicate that you tried to sleep (you wanted to sleep that is), you apply the "Ersatzinfinitiv" for modal verbs after another infinitive. Instead of "gewollt", you say "wollen".

Ich will schlafen. -> Ich habe schlafen gewollt -> Ich habe schlafen wollen.
Ich will ein Kuscheltier haben -> Ich habe ein Kuscheltier haben gewollt -> Ich habe ein Kuscheltier haben wollen.

In both cases you can make it simple by using preterit:

Ich wollte schlafen.
Ich wollte ein Kuscheltier haben.

More on this, read on about Partizip Perfekt on canoo.net.

To sum up, haben is just the helping verb for the present perfect and wollen is not in the common form of a participle because of a special 'rule', called "Ersatzinfinitiv".

  • Preterite usage in this case is, of course, not universal; merely regional. You would not hear it in Bavaria, for example.
    – Jan
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 11:50
  • @Jan I'm aware that preterit is even less common in Bavaria, but would you really commonly say "Ich habe ein Kuscheltier haben wollen" or "Ich habe schlafen wollen"? Or would you often rephrase the sentence altogether like: "Ich habe versucht zu schlafen", "Ich habe um ein Kuscheltier gebettelt" or whatever...
    – Em1
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:18
  • »Ich hab schlafen wollen, aber der Mond war so hell. Dann hab ich mir eine Schlafmaske holen wollen, sie aber im Schrank ned gefunden.« Yes, definitely perfect tense. Also compare Karl Valentin’s »Meng hätt i scho wolln, bloß derfn hob i mi ned traut«.
    – Jan
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:20

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