Everybody has needs. Everybody has “would likes.”

In English, we typically would just say “I want…” or “I need…” and leave it at that.

When you look at Thai language books, dictionaries, or travel phrasebooks you will often see the word ต้องการ /dtɔ̂ng gaan/ to express “would like.” For example:

/pǒm dtɔ̂ng-gaan sʉ́ʉ rót/
(I “would like” buy car)
I would like to buy a car.

This is pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

The problem is, this isn’t really correct…

When I say “isn’t really correct” I don’t mean to imply that it’s wrong, but more so that it’s not complete. More information is needed. When using ต้องการ in a sentence, it is implied that you should provide a reason as to why you “would like” whatever it is you are talking about. A “because…” if you will. Understand that if you don’t give a reason, the person you are speaking to will still understand what you are trying to say, but to them it may just sound a little off. An example of the proper way to use ต้องการ is:

/pǒm dtɔ̂ng-gaan sʉ́ʉ rót prɔ́ ngaan mài yùu glai mâak/
(I “would like” buy car because job new “is located” far much/very)
I would like to buy a car because my new job is very far away.

If you “would like” to express that you “would like” for something to happen and you don’t necessarily need or want to express a reason, the more proper phrase to use would be อยากได้ /yàak-dâi/. If you look in some dictionaries it will tell you that this means “to want/to need” and not necessarily say “would like” but the intended meaning is the same. In the case of “I would like to buy a car” you would say:

/pǒm yàak-dâi sʉ́ʉ rót/
(I “would like” buy car)
I would like to buy a car.

Again, if you’re traveling as a tourist you can certainly use ต้องการ and get away with it, but since we’re trying to improve our Thai language skills overall, it’s better to add an explanation or just use อยากได้ instead.

Edit: One Addition

(added on 10/17/2011)

If you read the comments below you’ll notice a discussion of the word เอา /ao/ (“to take”) and its use as a verb also meaning “to want.” If you are so inclined, please read the comments to see the entire conversation. If you’re a bit lazy and just want the good stuff, you can also use เอา as “to want.” The analogy is similar to how, in English, we say something like “I’ll take a large soda” to mean the same thing as “I want a large soda.” In using เอา there does not seem to be any requirement of adding more information or not as the case with ต้องการ and อยากได้.