Es will mir nicht gelingen, etw. zu tun.

Es will mir scheinen, dass ...

Es will mir nicht einleuchten, warum ...

I wonder if the meaning of "wollen" in these instances should still be interpreted as "want" or it deviates somewhat from pure and simple "want"?

What does "wollen" add to the meanings of these sentences, exactly?

  • As far as your first sentence, perhaps it is _ jmdm. gelingt es, etw.Akk. zu tun Infinitiv: gelingen_ (dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/gelingen) that you're dealing with. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:04
  • Actually, it is not the meanings of these sentences but rather the function of "wollen" that troubles me here. As for "gelingen", you could just as well phrase a sentence without "wollen", after all: "Wenn es uns gelingt, etw. zu tun". Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:10
  • Your first sentence is translated like this here (collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/german-english/…): "es will mir nicht gelingen ... zu ..." "I can't seem to manage to ..." Interestingly, "wollen" is rendered as "can" in this example. Never seen that. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:20
  • Rather than a single word "can", it seems to me more like: "I can't seem to do something, now matter how hard / how many times I try". The persistence of inability, if you will: "Fate does not want me to succeed, no matter what". Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:41
  • Involving fate is maybe a bit over-analyzing things. "Das Auto will nicht anspringen" makes the car taking responsibility as if it were a person you can easily blame.
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


This is maybe a German speciality of being able to impersonate a problem / statement / inanimate object in an expression.

Das Auto will nicht anspringen

Die Lösung für dieses Problem will gut überlegt sein

Nicht enden wollender Beifall

Es will mir nicht einleuchten, dass ...

Das Buch will ein Ratgeber für alle Lebenslagen sein.

This extends the meaning of wollen which would normally denote a person's desire towards something onto inanimate objects - obviously, there is no desire involved here, but rather only a "doesn't work", or a "must be".

Looking specifically at the difference between

Es leuchtet mir einfach nicht ein, dass ...


Es will mir einfach nicht einleuchten, dass ...

the second wording clearly denotes a fundamental and persistent problem of non-understanding, whereas the first could mean only a temporary problem (maybe I just haven't had enough coffee yet). Other than that, it kind of shifts the cause and responsibility of non-understanding more towards the problem and away from myself (blame the problem if you don't get it).

Note this approach doesn't only work with wollen but with other verbs as well:

Die Schraube weigert sich einfach aufzugehen.

Das Problem wehrt sich gegen eine ordentliche Lösung.

  • Hi. What do you think of the point I have mentioned in the comment above? (the 4th comment) Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:43

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