Both want and wish are very general and can be used in a wide range of application. Want is most commonly used to refer to feelings of need for some kind of object or satisfaction. The intensity of that feeling can range from a weak preference or inclination to the most extreme states of need or passion.
Ex: She wants more salt. I don't want to go to a movie. He wants to go to medical school more than anything else in the world.
Wish can suggest mental fantasy, as in a day dream, and can suggest regret for past action or hopes about the future, whether realistic or not.
She wished that a Prince Charming would come along and rescue her from her drab existence.
Here are good definitions of "want" and "wish" as nouns, from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language*.
WANT: 1. The condition or quality of lacking something usual or necessary: stayed home for want of anything better to do. 2. Pressing need; destitution: lives in want.. 3. Something desired: a person of few wants and needs..
WISH: 1. A desire, longing, or strong inclination for a specific thing. 2. An expression of a desire, longing, or strong inclination; a petition. 3. Something desired or longed for. _____
Here are definitions from the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary**:
11. "A ˜want' of something is a lack of it; a formal use....a want of manners and charm...The men were daily becoming weaker from want of rest ("Want" in this case is a singular count noun)
12. ˜Want' is the same as poverty: a formal word. He said they were fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom from want.. ("Want" in this case is a noncount noun.)
13. Your wants are the things that you want. She couldn't lift a spoon without a servant anticipating her wants and getting it for her...Supermarkets often claim that they are responding to the wants of consumers by providing packaged goods.." ("Want" in this case is a plural noun.)
"1. A ˜wish' is a desire or strong feeling that you want to have something or do something. She was sincere and genuine in her wish to make amends for the past...Clearly she had no wish for conversation...She wanted to go everywhere in the world. She soon got her wish....The decision was made against the wishes of the party leader.." ("Wish" here is a count noun, often used with a possessive, meaning "a desire.")
"9. If you express your good wishes towards someone, you are politely expressing your friendly feelings towards them and your hope that they will be successful or happy. I found George's story very sad. Please give him my best wishes....Western leaders sent good wishes to the new American president. ." ("Wish" here is used in the plural only.)
Rachel _______ *The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003 **The Collins COBUILD English Dictionary. HarperCollins. 1995
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