I'm not a native speaker. A pupil wrote "wanna" at the end of a sentence:

You can go if you wanna.

It sounds odd to me, as if something had to follow wanna (as opposed to want to/ want, which can stand alone)?

Please note that this question is not asking about the acceptability of 'wanna' as a written 'analogue' of 'want to' in general. That has already been thoroughly covered in other questions, notably in various answers at kinda sorta coulda shoulda lotta oughta betcha tseasy etc. This is solely about the acceptability of ending a sentence with 'wanna'.

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    If you're the pupil's teacher, then this is wrong in academic writing. It may be fine in a character's speech in creative writing, as this is how people speak in real life.
    – user108066
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 9:27
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    The pupil is only in year two of an Austrian grammar school, so we're not anywhere near academic writing, even though some of the really motivated kids sometimes use some fancy words they found in their dictionaries in their homework. They have to learn to distinguish between formal and informal forms already, of course. But I do appreciate it if they notice those short forms in pop music etc. Commented May 21, 2018 at 10:14
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    I don’t know who has taught you to write wanna, but they have done you a grave disservice. The words in English are written want to, and until you learn that, people will not look well upon anything you write, unfairly but inevitably judging you as being tantamount to illiterate in written English.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 3:04
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    @tchrist More than once, I've seen EL&U users, native speakers, mostly American, write "hafta" "gotta" and "ain't" in their answers. I don't think anyone accused them of being illiterate. Besides, it is the pupil who wrote "wanna" and maybe they were writing dialogue, in which case it is quite commendable, the ability to differentiate and imitate formal writing and informal speech is an important skill. The OP is not asking if "wanna" is standard but, it seems to me, about the word order. I might have written If you wanna, you can go but no one has mentioned that possibility.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 9:17
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    @tchrist A non-native English speaker using informal language, which is used all the time in daily life in the US, is being tantamount to being illiterate. Oh, I should of known that.
    – Masked Man
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 12:14

7 Answers 7


"Wanna" can, in conversation, be an extremely casual spoken substitute for either "want a" or "want to". "I wanna watch" can either mean "I want a [wrist] watch" or "I want to watch [something]". If "want to" is the meaning intended, then "wanna" can stand anywhere that the more formal phrase can. Except in direct speech, such contractions as "wanna", "gonna", "coulda", "shoulda", etc, have no place in written English that aims for any level of formality above street-talk, and this should, in my opinion, be your concern as a teacher.

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    Good point. The "want a" interpretation may be why some feel it needs to be followed by an object.
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:45
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    When I was a child growing up in South London, the local Cockney dialect had "wanna" (want a) and "wannoo" (want to), the latter mainly used at the end of a sentence, e.g. Shall we play a game? - I don't wannoo. Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:57
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    "If "want to" is the meaning intended, then "wanna" can stand anywhere that the more formal phrase can." This I will wholeheartedly disagree with. Consider that "I wanna win the game." sounds markedly better than "Who do you wanna win the game?" If you wanna know more, see princeton.edu/~browning/wanna.html Commented May 20, 2018 at 20:26
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    Seems like an opinion piece by a guy at Princeton, that well-known cauldron of street talk. Commented May 20, 2018 at 20:43
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    The general question about the acceptability of these forms per se is a duplicate. But 'wanna' is a weak form, and weak forms can have different rules. I am here <==> Here I am. I'm here <=/=> *Here I'm. You haven't addressed the specific problem here, and your claim is unsubstantiated and differs from the accepted answer at the duplicate. Commented May 20, 2018 at 22:38

To be clear, I understand your question to be primarily about grammar as it applies to pronunciation, not primarily about spelling, since you said "it sounds odd to me". There are certainly grammatical rules about the pronunciation of contractions, weak forms and other things that native English speakers often ignore or just think of as "lazy", "careless" or "sloppy" pronunciation. For example, Wilson left a comment mentioning the often-discussed linguistic fact that some speakers feel that they cannot use "wanna", or that "wanna" would sound odd, in sentences like "Who do you wanna win the game?", where the subject of the infinitive following "want to" is different from the subject of the verb "want" (the comment links to https://www.princeton.edu/~browning/wanna.html). (I said "some" because my impression is that there may be more variation between speakers in this area than is commonly acknowledged.)

"You can go if you wanna" sounds acceptable to me

Maybe some people feel differently, but for me, "wanna" (which I use as a written representation of a particular pronunciation of "want to"; something like [wɑnə] or [wɑɾ̃ə]—this is just an impressionistic transcription, not the result of rigorous phonetic analysis) can stand alone at the end of a sentence just as well as "want to".

Grant Goodall ("Contraction") seems to describe a few relevant examples, but unfortunately says we don't have very good data about their acceptability:

Pullum (1997) points out that in principle we should be able to look for such evidence by examining the behavior of wanna vs. want to in constructions where an overt element in T is required. VP ellipsis (as opposed to null complement anaphora) and VP fronting are two such constructions. Examples of the latter are given in (9).

(9) a. I said I'd wash the dishes, and wash them I did.
b. *I said I'd help wash the dishes, and wash them I helped.

If wanna involves no overt element in the embedded T, we would then predict that (10b) would be worse than (10a).

(10) a. I said I'd feel like climbing the mountain, and climb it I want to.
b. I said I'd feel like climbing the mountain, and climb it I wanna.

Pullum reports that unfortunately, judgments on sentences like these are so unclear and inconsistent to be of little use (and similar results obtain with examples involving VP ellipsis), so at this point it is an open question whether it is possible to find evidence for or against the presence of to in the clause embedded under wanna.

If I remember correctly, some linguists have analyzed the "particle" to that is used before infinitives in English as an auxiliary. If that analysis is correct, perhaps an analogous example would be the weak pronunciation of have in sentences like "You should have" (this weak pronunciation of "have" can be represented in writing as "You should've", which is an informal spelling but which I would say is not considered a misspelling, or as "You should of", which is fairly common in informal contexts, but commonly considered a misspelling).

That said, nohat♦'s answer to "Is there some rule against ending a sentence with the contraction “it's”?" quotes a section of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum, 2002) which apparently indicates that in the authors' judgement a strong form is needed in a similar sentence:

They want me to resign, but I don’t intend [to __].

I'm not sure how to explain the discrepancy between this and my judgement of sentences like "You can go if you wanna". It may be possible that to usually has a strong pronunciation in this context, but the contraction wanna is an established alternative to want to.

"Another Argument Against Wh-Trace" (Ivan A. Sag) seems to indicate that Pullum has in fact proposed that there is something special about wanna and similar words:

the arbitraryness of the set of verbs to which it applies: gonna, hafta, *intenna (intend to), *lufta (love to), *meanna (meant to). Indeed, as Pullum (1997) shows in detail, the optimal analysis of this entire class of verbs involves no rule of 'Wanna Contraction'—wanna forms are morphologically derived. The relevant morpholexical rule applies to seven verbs that select for a single infinitival complement; hence transitive want (which selects for two complements) has no such form. Pullum's analysis explains all phenomena previously discussed in the literature, as well as further data that serve to distinguish his proposal from others that have been advanced.

[...] Pullum, Geoffrey K. 1997. The Morpholexical Nature of English to-Contraction. Language 73: 79–102.

However, it seems Pullum's account has been criticized by Hans C. Boas ("You Wanna Consider a Constructional Approach towards Wanna-contraction?", 2004).

The spelling "wanna" is often stigmatized in any context

Another entirely separate issue is the appropriateness in general of the spelling "wanna". As other people have mentioned, many people find the spellings "wanna" and "gonna" inappropriate in any context in any but the most informal writing (I would say it's most likely to be tolerated in online chat rooms or in fictional dialogue). It's never incorrect to write "want to" instead of "wanna", and it's unlikely that any reader will find the spelling "want to" to be overly formal, so you should advise your students to get out of the habit of writing "wanna".

Note that avoiding spellings like "wanna" and "gonna" doesn't necessarily mean that you should try to avoid the corresponding pronunciations: I use the pronunciation [wɑnə] or [wɑɾ̃ə] much more often than I use the spelling "wanna". Many English words and phrases have reduced pronunciations ("weak forms") that are not typically indicated in writing, and that native speakers may not even realize they are using. See the Language Log post Ask Language Log: Writing "gonna" or "going to" (Mark Liberman) for some more relevant information.

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    Yes, 5 year olds I know would be far more likely to say, "sorry Pater, but I am not currently feeling adequately somnolent so I am not yet ready to recline in the arms of Morpheus"
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 21:04
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    @EdwinAshworth: I thought I made it clear that this answer represents my own intuitions, not some kind of universal rule that I claim to have discovered. There might be variation, but if even one speaker uses a particular pattern, that's evidence that it's not ungrammatical for all speakers. The very vague and general concept of a "weak form" or "contraction" doesn't imply that "wanna" must behave the same way as "I'm".
    – herisson
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 22:50
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    @EdwinAshworth: Why? A native speaker doesn't need any particular credentials to give an acceptability/grammaticality judgement. I'm qualified to say if something is grammatical for me even if I can't explain why.
    – herisson
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:07
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    Well, we can all go home and leave John Lawler and Mr Ashworth to answer questions concerning usage and slang.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:07
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    It blows my mind that no one here seems to have pointed out that wanna is in a class by itself. Wanna and gonna are grammatically dissimilar while being phonetically similar. And it also blows my mind that very often no distinction is made around here about the grammar of spoken English versus the grammar of written English. Yes, people use it without realizing it. Yes, it can reflect register (or not). Yes, you'd see it in a movie script dialogue and novels and certain transcriptions. People speak how they speak. And linguists can only describe that and the context of utterances.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 11:51

It's just a short way of saying 'want to', so it doesn't need something to follow after it as it can stand alone. It isn't formal English.

  • Ah, but never use an "a" to end a sentence wi.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:01
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    This isn’t quite true. Wanna is a contracted form of want to, yes, but contractions don’t necessarily act like their uncontracted forms. To me, one of the differences between want to and wanna is precisely that the latter only occurs with an immediately following object clause, making the example noted in the question very awkward and unnatural. Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:09
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    I see no difference between ending the sentence with want to or wanna (apart from formality).
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:20
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    @EdwinAshworth please provide supporting evidence in your comments that colloquial and nonstandard English remarks/speech cannot end with "wanna".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:10
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    @EdwinAshworth but you're downvoting nearly all the answers based on your explanation. What has "Here I'm" got to do with "wanna"? DV if you must because the answers lack supporting evidence but not because you say they are wrong.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:26

You can go if you want to [implied to go].

[see explanation below] A standard, full-sentence in English would be:

You can go if you want to go.

You can go if you wanna. [colloquial only, spoken only, never in formal writing]

The TAKEAWAY: Spoken versus written English

In spoken English, one does not have to repeat a predicate from the main clause in many cases, when the predicate after the to would be the same phrase as in the main clause's predicate. This is especially true of verbs of these verbs: want, wish need, have and expect. This has a technical name which I cannot recall now, but they are basically verbs expressing volition of some kind.

You can stop now if you have to [stop now]. They will arrive late if they want to [arrive late] You will find out if you need to [find out]. He works late whenever he wishes to [work late]. Don't leave early unless you expect them to [leave early].

It is perfectly fine to speak this way, and every English speaker does, however, in a formal written text one would not:

  • The armies battled for months along the river though their respective generals did not expect them to.

There are those who assert that that sentence is OK. Nevertheless, were it my thesis I was writing, I would write:

  • The armies battled for months along the river though their respective generals did not expect them to do so.

In order to cut down on unwieldy sentences, one can substitute "to do so" (or say so, etc.) to avoid unwieldy repetition. However, the repetition is always implied.

One last word: A honest linguist recognizes that "wanna" exists. And linguists do not care about whether some grammarian establishment thinks its "acceptable" or "not".

[Unfortunately, the bolding and italics here won't work for me.]

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    I don't see what is wrong with "You can go if you want to"
    – Mitch
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 21:22
  • @Mitch standard means long form, if you will. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong it it. Surely, if you had read my entire explanation, that would have been clear to you? Anyway, I clarified it further....
    – Lambie
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 22:56
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    I think you are mixing the 'don't end a proposition with a sentence' Latin rule with "standard". In formal written English, implied words are fine. "You can stop now if you have to stop now" (regardless of the 'can'/'have to' mismatch) is just awkward.
    – mcalex
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 3:53
  • No, I am not mixing up anything at all. It is a fact about speech (utterances) in English that I have described. Nowhere am I prescriptive. "wanna" is a speech thing. It has nothing to do with not ending a sentence with a preposition. It is about English allowing non-repetition of the main verb and allowing the preposition in speech to be there "hang out there" as it were. But it also occurs in utterances: He doesn't wanna go (spoken). And it has zero to do with spelling except for the spelling mirroring how it is said.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 12:37

While I always thought it's incorrect, a misspelling, it is actually listed by multiple dictionaries. The definitions listed are (some only list the first, this will be indicated below):

1:short form of want to

2:short form of want a

More interesting, I think, is to compare what else the different dictionaries say about it. A quick overview:

Cambridge Dictionary lists it as not standard.

Oxford Dictionary Online lists it as informal.

Merriam Webster Dictionary only lists the first definition and emphasises that the term is informal.

Collins Dictionary only lists the first definition and emphasises that it's spelled as it is pronounced and that the word is informal.

American Heritage Dictionary lists it as informal.

Macmillan Dictionary only lists the first definition and describes it as short form and informal.

  • This addresses the general question (which is a duplicate) not the specific one. Commented May 20, 2018 at 22:40
  • @EdwinAshworth consider this a partial answer. If you think the question is a duplicate, please vote for it using the appropriate flag, I cannot really help with that.
    – JJJ
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:00
  • The question is not a duplicate. But all the answers to date are answers to the less specific question 'Is wanna [etc] acceptable?' (a question asked and answered before). Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:08
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    It is not clear to me what you think the "more specific" question is. People have said that "wanna" is acceptable and that it is also acceptable at the end of a sentence, with nothing following. What else is needed?
    – user184130
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:45
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    @EdwinA - Another related question here.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 21:12

Wanna is normally considered a nonstandard spelling. It’s a phonetic spelling of a common pronunciation in American English, but a transcript of someone who pronounced “want to” or “want a” that way would normally correct the spelling, like it would normally leave out uh and um. If you saw somebody’s dialogue spelled that way in a novel, the connotation would be that the character is childish. So I would suggest you teach your students to avoid that spelling.

There are some people who also think it’s an error to end a sentence with want to, because they believe a preposition should not be “stranded” without an explicit object. (I have also heard an older shibboleth against ending a sentence with a preposition, but that appears to be completely defunct.) I personally consider that a hypercorrection: that rule was made up by analogy with Latin grammar centuries ago, and has no basis in either the spoken language or the usage of many of the best English writers. Winston Churchill made fun of how comically stilted following this rule can sound when he said that ending a sentence with a preposition was something “up with which I shall not put.”

I would take out my red pen and correct “wanna” to “want to.”

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. i'm sure the writer meant "wanna", not "want to". The OP did not seem to understand that the two are equivalent, even if "wanna" is not formal standard English .
    – J. Taylor
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 22:11
  • Well, the thing about want to, need to and have to is that they are an integral part of English. And very much used in speech. And thus, very much used at the end of sentences. That has nothing to do with writing, of course.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 22:18
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    @sumelic It’s a phonetic spelling. Our last two presidents have frequently pronounced the word that way, but it’s rarely transcribed that way. One exception: the CBS News transcription of its interview with then-President-Elect Donald Trump on Nov. 13, 2016 quotes him saying, “I'd wanna see, you know, he may have had very good reasons for doing what he did,” and “I wanna do the job. We have some great generals.” A few sources transcribe Barack Obama’s comment, “If folks want to pop off,” as, “If folks wanna pop off,” but not many.
    – Davislor
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 0:18
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    @JJJ Only when he’s limited to 140 (or now 280) characters.
    – Davislor
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 0:25
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    @JJJ Well, he’s certainly the most-followed and discussed.
    – Davislor
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 0:51

I am about to disagree with what has been posted before and won't even be able to cite references. I know that spells ill luck, but at least I'll give a reasoning.

"wanna" is an informal contraction. It does not stand at the same level as "I'm" or "I'd" which are perfectly valid non-colloquial speech. It is a half-phonetic spelling of quite colloquial speech.

"You can go if you wanna." is incongruous in the complexity and order of its elements, and the place of the contraction is at the end of an utterance where it doesn't serve a purpose in not distracting from what's following it.

It's similar to "This is either not going to break, or it's.": the abbreviation makes breathing and thinking room for a continuation the absence of which is irritating.

More coherent would be "You wanna go, just go.": not only does the "wanna" contraction have an actual infinitive following it, the whole abbreviated conditional falls more in line with the overall informality.

Now "wanna" in itself is not fit for written speech but of course will serve as a transcription of colloquial speech. Colloquial speech as a transcription of an imagined or factual utterance is not bound to grammaticality or rhyme or reason. Flagging "character incoherence" on the writings of a young person would be excessive.

So I don't see that you have lots of options other than flagging "wanna" as improper speech/grammar/spelling irrespective of the particular strangeness of this particular use.

  • Intersting. It seems there are some people for whom sentence-final wanna is acceptable and others for whom it isn't. This could be regional or age/class related.
    – user184130
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:35
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    Also, colloquial speech is just as bound to rules of grammar as any other form of language (possibly different from the rules of the written language, but rules all the same).
    – user184130
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:36
  • It's unclear. Are you saying that "You can go if you want to" is "improper"?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 20:43
  • +1 for actually addressing (in your 3rd-5th paras) the question asked, viz "why is sentence-final 'wanna' odd?". (It seems odd to me too, if the infinitive verb is not explicit.)
    – Rosie F
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 11:50
  • wanna is most definitely not a contraction: a contraction is: don't; doesn't aren't; isn't, wouldn't. etc. etc. It is an informal truncation, if anything. wanna is a written form that mirrors the spoken idiom. Even the more educated speakers might not hear themselves saying it when they speak fast....
    – Lambie
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 14:39

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