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Which one of the following is correct?

To shine like a sun, you want to burn like a sun.

To shine like a sun, you have to burn like a sun.

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Using want to in this fashion is at the very least informal, as when a footbal fan shouts "You want to get your eyes tested!" to a referee. –  FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 13:28
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In American English, when giving directions informally, wanna (want to) and hafta (have to) are common. To get there you wanna turn left at the red house. or To get there you hafta turn left at the red house, for example. Hafta or have to might be used for emphasis, like, you have to turn here; there's no other way. –  aedia λ Sep 30 '11 at 14:46
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both are grammatically correct, but they mean different things. As Lee points out, "want to" indicates desire; "have to" indicates necessity. "I have to arrive at work on time" because my boss demands it. "I want to arrive at the party on time" because I expect it to be fun.

Of course the distinction is not always easy to determine. Like, "I have to go to the doctor." Is someone forcing me? Is there a law? No. But I "have to" in the sense that if I don't I will suffer from this illness.

In the example you give, you have to say "have to", because you are saying that burning is a requirement in order to shine, not an optional thing that you might do if you feel like it.

That said, the statement is clearly poetic, and in poetry many of the normal rules of language are relaxed. Poets are always saying things like, "I have to be near you, my darling", when clearly they are not referring to any literal compulsion, but rather are using "have to" to indicate that their desire is so strong that it almost seems like compulsion.

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I can also see 'want to' meaning 'need to' in this context. –  Barrie England Sep 30 '11 at 15:01
    
@Barrie: True. I might add that people often use "you want to" as a polite way of giving an order. Like to take an extreme case, "You want to leave now." –  Jay Oct 4 '11 at 15:04
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Grammatically speaking, both are correct.

However, have to implies a need. If you have to do something, you have no choice in the matter. On the other hand, want to means you would certainly like to perform the action, but it is not necessary.

Going by that logic

  • "To shine like a sun, you have to burn like a sun"

is the correct usage. In other words "If you wish to shine like a sun, you must also burn like a sun."

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It might be misleading to NEO to say that one is correct, with the implication that the other isn't. Both are grammatical. –  Barrie England Sep 30 '11 at 13:26
    
is it correct to use "To shine like a sun, you should burn like a sun" –  NEO Sep 30 '11 at 13:26
    
To shine like a sun, you should burn like a sun is also gramatically correct. –  Lee Quarella Sep 30 '11 at 13:35
    
Yes, it is grammatical. –  Barrie England Sep 30 '11 at 13:44
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