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  1. Wenn Sie rauchen möchten, müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

Oder soll ich schreiben …

  1. Wenn Sie rauchen wollen, müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

To me 1. looks correct but I just started German and there is a good chance I am wrong. From my understanding möchten would be used because it isn’t a “I WILL” kind of situation, it isn’t as strong as wollen and wollen is used when the person has more of their heart put into, correct? Please help me to unterstand these two.

By the way, I know that möchten comes from mögen, so that’ll keep ya from explaining that.

  • It doesn’t answer the question, but fewer words would usually suffice: Bitte nur draußen rauchen! – Crissov Mar 9 '16 at 9:42
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wollen ist usually stronger than möchten. In this example I would therefore prefer möchten, so I would go with the first sentence.

wollen would be more appropriate when you may as well add wirklich or unbedingt without changing the meaning too much:

Wenn Sie wirklich rauchen wollen, (dann) müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

Wenn Sie unbedingt rauchen wollen, (dann) müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

which shifts the meaning from want to to have to. You may also say

Wenn Sie wirklich rauchen müssen, (dann) müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

Wenn Sie unbedingt rauchen müssen, (dann) müssen Sie nach draußen gehen.

Which is even stronger (i.e. you are really addicted and can't help it).

However, despite this slight difference in meaning, in day-to-day usage, both möchten and wollen are used mostly interchangeably. Only be careful when making yourself the subject of the sentence. Then wollen might be perceived as too strong and impolite (say Ich möchte gern… instead of Ich will…).

  • Thank you for your help! That makes a lot more sense now. – josiah Mar 8 '16 at 13:05
  • 3
    +1 für den letzten Satz. "Möchten" ist höflicher als "Wollen". – anion Mar 8 '16 at 14:20
  • @josiah If that answers your question, could you mark the answer as accepted? – Janek Bevendorff Mar 8 '16 at 16:37
  • Ich möchte wirklich keinen Kuchen mehr. Ich möchte unbedingt mal nach Berlin. – Robert Mar 9 '16 at 2:03
  • @Robert Not quite sure what you want to say. You are using möchten in exactly the sense in which it can be replaced with wollen except for maybe that it sounds a little too harsh and möchten is a little more humble and polite. But I wrote that in my answer as well. – Janek Bevendorff Mar 9 '16 at 8:09
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In English I typically think of möchten as having approximately the same politeness level as "would like" and wollen being similar to "want".

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