I’d give my right arm for it: ways of saying ‘want’

Listen to the author reading this blog post: 

a young child looking with wide eyes at two chocolate doughnuts in a clear plastic container, illustrating the concept of ways of saying want
Anna Bizon / Gallo Images ROOTS RF collection / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

This post is one of an occasional series on alternatives for very common words (see, for example, my post on different ways of saying ‘get’).

There are a few single-verb alternatives for the verb ‘want’. Desire is slightly formal or literary and implies quite a strong feeling. Wish is also rather formal and is often followed by a to-infinitive. On the other hand, the verb fancy (which is used in UK but not US English) is slightly informal and usually refers to things that aren’t particularly important. It is followed by a noun or an -ing verb:

I have never desired to seek election.

The donors wish to remain anonymous.

Do you fancy a cup of coffee?

If you long for, yearn for or (more informally) are dying for something or are longing, yearning or dying to do something, you want very much to have it or do it:

She is very isolated and longs for companionship.

He spent his teen years yearning to be like the celebrities he admired.

I’m dying to try that new restaurant.

If you hanker after/for something, you want it and have often wanted it for a long time. Hunger after/for or thirst after/for are rather literary ways of talking about a very strong wish for something. A more everyday way of expressing the same idea is to say that you are desperate for something or desperate to do something:

She’s been hankering after a new racing bike.

The room was full of serious young people, hungering after knowledge.

We were desperate to meet our hero.

In UK English, if you are gasping for a drink or a cigarette, you want one very much. Similarly, and again in UK English only, if you say you could murder a particular type of food or drink, you mean you would very much like to have it:

After a two-hour meeting, I was gasping for a cup of tea.

I could murder a pizza right now.

There are several nice, emphatic phrases for wanting something very much. For instance, if you set your heart on something or have your heart set on something, you really want it and would be very disappointed if you didn’t get it. Finally, you could say you would give your right arm/anything/a lot/your eyeteeth for something:

She has set her heart on becoming a jockey.

I’d give my right arm to live in a house like this.

Thankfully, you don’t have to give your right arm to improve your English: just keep reading these blog posts to learn more!

15 thoughts on “I’d give my right arm for it: ways of saying ‘want’

  1. Denis

    Awesomesauce! Keep it up! 🙂
    I’d also like to add ‘crave sth’, ‘be eager for sth/to do sth’, ‘be raring to do sth’ & ‘covet sth’.
    Thanks a bunch.

      1. Amy

        It means that my brain was “frozen”, or in a state of confusion before I saw the post. Not sure if I used the combination correctly. I have seen this usage a couple of times in movies and articles.

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