When do you use want as "desire" and as "lack?" It appears quite often in texts, and I have a hard time differentiating the two.

For example:

The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day.

The great family characteristic of the Stanhopes might probably be said to be heartlessness, but this want of feeling was, in most of them, accompanied by so great an amount of good nature as to make itself by little noticeable to the world.

  • The context usually makes it clear which of the two is intended. Using want in the sense of lack is relatively rare nowadays. Beyond that, there isn't much to say in response to this question: there is no algorithm for distinguishing the two senses. – jsw29 Oct 13 '20 at 16:27
  • Using want as a noun means poverty; wanting as an adjective means lack. There are lots of fixed phrases: in want, in want of, for want of, found wanting. As a verb, want means to desire, but with an invited inference of lack. Normally we don't say we want something that we already have, but we do say, of something we give away, that we don't want it any more. – John Lawler Oct 13 '20 at 22:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.