Saying “I want” & “I need” in Sinhala – Isn’t it the same thing?

want sinhalaOne of my readers, who already has a good basic knowledge of Sinhala, recently asked me how to say “I need” instead of “I want”.

At first, the answer seemed quite straightforward to me: We use the same expression.

But just when I was about to send him my short reply, I understood that there is, in fact, a tricky nuance between the two expressions, which I completely missed!

It all depended on whether the thing we “want” or “need” is an OBJECT or an ACTION.

I realized that because I know the language, I personally don’t have to think twice before distinguishing the differences between the two. However, for someone who’s just starting to learn Sinhala, this could create some unnecessary head-scratching.

So, I thought I’d explain it in a very simplified way in this post, which is more or less an extract of the answer I sent.



“I want” in Sinhala

First let’s look at the expression “I want”

“I want”

ma∙tȧ   ō∙né


(ma∙tȧ = “For me”; ō∙né = “want”)

Using “I want” and “I need” with an OBJECT

Let’s take the object “water” as an example and learn how to say “I want water” and “I need water” in Sinhala.

The Sinhala word for “water” is va∙thu∙rȧ

“I want water”

ma∙tȧ   va∙thu∙rȧ   ō∙né


(ma∙tȧ ō∙né = “I want”; va∙thu∙rȧ = “water”)

Notice that we placed the desired object between ma∙tȧ and ō∙né.

The good news…

ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙né can ALSO BE INTERPRETED as “I need water”



When we want to say “I want” and “I need” with an OBJECT we would use the following sentence structure:

ma∙tȧ + [desired object] + ō∙né


Easy right?

The bad news (or let’s say, the “less good” news)…

This rule is slightly different when we replace the object with an ACTION…

Let’ me show you what I mean.




Using “I want” and “I need” with an ACTION

Let’s take the verb “go” as an example and learn how to say “I want to go” in Sinhala.

The infinitive of the desired action “go” is yan∙nȧ (which means “to go”)

“I want to go”

ma∙tȧ   yan∙nȧ   ō∙né


(ma∙tȧ ō∙né = “I want”; yan∙nȧ = “to go”)

Once again, notice that we placed the infinitive of the action between ma∙tȧ and ō∙né exactly like before. No changes there.



When we want to say “I want” with an ACTION we would use the following sentence structure:

ma∙tȧ + [infinitive of the desired action] + ō∙né

(same structure as before)


But now let’s look at “I need to go” in Sinhala:

“I need to go”

ma∙mȧ   yan∙nȧ   ō∙né


(ma∙mȧ = “I”; yan∙nȧ = “to go”; ō∙né = in this case, “need”)

Notice that we still kept the word ō∙né but we replaced the word ma∙tȧ (which means “for me”) with ma∙mȧ (which means “I”)

ma∙mȧ yan∙nȧ ō∙né can be interpreted as either:

  • “I need to go”; or
  • “I have to go”; or
  • “I must go”; or even
  • “I should go”

Only the given context will indicate the intended meaning.

Some of you may look at it and go “oh no…” and see this as a bad thing.

Call me lazy but I tend to think it’s awesome because by learning just one phrase, you’re covering 4 different expressions. Leverage, baby, leverage!

Just remember the following rule and you’ll be fine:



When we want to say “I need” with an ACTION we would use the following sentence structure:

ma∙mȧ + [infinitive of the desired action] + ō∙né




After all this explanation, when it comes to “I want” and “I need” in spoken Sinhala, this is ALL you need to remember.

When saying “I want” and “I need” with an OBJECT:
ma∙tȧ + [desired object] + ō∙né
When saying “I want” with an ACTION
ma∙tȧ + [infinitive of the desired action] + ō∙né
When saying “I need” with an ACTION
ma∙mȧ + [infinitive of the desired action] + ō∙né
(This can also be interpreted as “I have to go”, “I must go”, or “I should go”)


And that’s it.

Any questions? You know what to do…. Comment below, submit, expect answer…

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31 Responses to Saying “I want” & “I need” in Sinhala – Isn’t it the same thing?

  1. sarah July 11, 2013 at 16:30 #

    i don’t really understand

    • Dilshan Jayasinha July 12, 2013 at 19:06 #

      You’re gonna have to be a tad bit more descriptive.. Tell me exactly what part you don’t understand and I’ll be happy to help.

      To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you”.

  2. thaya September 20, 2013 at 05:46 #

    THx. i am a new student

  3. Rebecca September 22, 2013 at 19:21 #

    Trying to learn Sinhala as my other half is Sri Lankan, and have find that there are so few resources available!

    I’m really enjoying learning with you, it’s really fun and is actually sticking in my head! I just wish I wasn’t keeping it a surprise, as I need to practice with someone!

    Thanks again

    • Dilshan Jayasinha September 24, 2013 at 21:13 #

      Hi Rebecca, that’s going to be an awesome surprise! True, the practicing would help the speed the learning process for sure. Thanks so much for the nice words about my material too. So glad to hear that it’s sticking to memory since that was something I focused on intensely (i.e. to make it easy to remember). Talk to you again sometime, please do keep me updated on your progress (and of course, the grand surprise).

  4. Shiju krishnan u k October 16, 2013 at 20:38 #

    The sinhala grammar is exactly same as that of my mother tongue malayalam, provincial language tamil and national language Hindi. Thanks Dilshan you have been a way better than a teacher.

  5. abrar December 21, 2013 at 12:28 #

    hi Dilshan,

    How can we use other pronoun oyaa eyaa api

    • Dilshan Jayasinha December 21, 2013 at 13:32 #

      Hi Abrar,

      Wherever there is ‘ma∙mȧ’, replace it with ‘o∙yaa’, ‘é∙yaa’, ‘a∙pi’…
      Wherever there is ‘ma∙tȧ’, replace it with ‘o∙yaa∙tȧ’, ‘é∙yaa∙tȧ’, ‘a∙pi∙tȧ’.

      Hope that helps.

      • abrar December 23, 2013 at 09:29 #

        Thanks alot for your helping to learn Sinhala

  6. Adam March 26, 2014 at 15:23 #

    How would you say I would like, instead of I want, or is it acceptable (not rude) to say I want when ordering drinks or meals at restaurants ? Thank you.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha March 27, 2014 at 16:11 #

      Hi Adam,

      I honestly can’t think of an equivalent for “I would like”.

      Instead (and ff we take the same example of asking for water), you could say the equivalent of “Would you give me (some) water?” which is “ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ (pod∙dak) dhé∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ?” . This might sound more polite but rest assured that using “I want” is also acceptable.

      Hope that helps.

  7. Nargis September 29, 2014 at 07:33 #

    so easy to understand..i think it would be a bit more helpful if can hav a small bit of exercise after every part to help us revise our understanding just like we had in the adjective part 1…

    • Dilshan Jayasinha October 7, 2014 at 12:15 #

      Hi again Nargis, ok understood. Shall keep that in mind for future posts. Thanks for suggesting it.

  8. Troy October 13, 2014 at 03:15 #

    Hi Dilshan

    Thanks for letting us know about this slight deviation in sentence structure. This will definitely came in handy as these sentences are used extensively in daily communication.


  9. sonali October 13, 2014 at 07:05 #

    HI Dilshan sir….I understood this lesson…thank u…..

    • Dilshan Jayasinha November 2, 2014 at 06:40 #

      Hi Sonali, happy that you understood. Good luck with the rest.

  10. shafna November 4, 2014 at 12:10 #

    this kind of grammars are really useful . the formula that you have used shows that learning sinhala is much easy.
    Thank you.

  11. lexi December 17, 2014 at 17:45 #

    Hi there, firstly, thank you very much! Your site is always extremely helpful and well organized. I was wondering if one wants to turn it into a question, is it done just by adding -dha to “one”.

    For example..”Do you want to go? -> oyaata yanna onedha?”.

    Would that be correct?

    • Dilshan Jayasinha December 20, 2014 at 07:25 #

      Hi Lexi, yes that’s correct.

      “You want to go” = o∙yaa∙tȧ yan∙nȧ ō∙né

      “Do you want to go?” = o∙yaa∙tȧ yan∙nȧ ō∙né∙dhȧ?

      Hope that helps?

  12. Sumaiya January 17, 2015 at 05:20 #


    I love it! You make it so simple and easy :D

  13. Uma Balu July 10, 2015 at 17:17 #


    Please explain these:


    Do you want / need water?

    Do you want / need to go?


    I do not want/ need water, etc.


    I wanted / needed water, etc.

    I did not want/need water, etc.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha July 13, 2015 at 18:15 #

      Here’s your late reply :)

      Do you want / need water?
      o∙yaa∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙né∙dhȧ?

      Do you want / need to go?
      o∙yaa∙tȧ yan∙nȧ ō∙né∙dhȧ?


      I do not want/ need water, etc.
      ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙né nǣ


      I wanted / needed water, etc.
      ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙nȧ vu∙naa

      I did not want/need water, etc.
      ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ ō∙nȧ vu∙né nǣ

      • AB December 14, 2017 at 07:42 #

        Hi Dilshan,

        In the above sentence, is there any difference in spoken Sinhala between ‘Do you want to go?’ and ‘Do you need to go?’.

        • Dilshan Jayasinha December 14, 2017 at 08:15 #

          Generally, you could use ‘ō∙né∙dhȧ?’ for both “want?” & “need?”.

          However, you could use the following phrases to specifically mean “need”:

          Do you need water?
          o∙yaa∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ a∙vash∙yȧ∙dhȧ?

          Do you need to go?
          o∙yaa∙tȧ yan∙nȧ a∙vash∙yȧ∙dhȧ?


          I do not need water, etc.
          ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ a∙vash∙yȧ nǣ


          I needed water, etc.
          ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ a∙vash∙yȧ vu∙naa

          I did not need water, etc.
          ma∙tȧ va∙thu∙rȧ a∙vash∙yȧ vu∙né nǣ

  14. claudia October 5, 2015 at 17:12 #

    Thank you! I really needed (not wanted) to know about this. I ask my friends in Sri Lanka and they didn’t understood my question.
    I want to say thank you also for your blog, in general. I think is really nice what you do and you do it very well.
    I’m in love with SriLanka and I hope someday I can speak good enough Sinhala. My friends teach me a lot, but with your blog I’m understanding many things, it is very helpful. I love it.
    Thank you so much, Dilshan.

    • Dilshan Jayasinha December 25, 2015 at 14:38 #

      Glad to hear that Claudia, you’re welcome. Thanks for your comment. Good luck.

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