Written by: Olivera Tolimir

You’ve probably already encountered the verbs hteti and želeti while learning Serbian.

They seem almost the same since both modal verbs are equivalents of the English verb to want. So, that leaves us with a problem: how to distinguish them when speaking Serbian?

Worry no more! Here comes your little cheat sheet!


If you’re a beginner in learning Serbian, we prepared a conjugation of both verbs in the present tense.


  1. (ja) hoću
  2. (ti) hoćeš
  3. (on/ona/ono) hoće
  1. (mi) hoćemo
  2. (vi) hoćete
  3. (oni/one/ona) hoće

As you can see, the verb hteti is specific. Unlikely all other verbs you’ll encounter learning Serbian, its first-person singular ends in -u, not –m. There’s only one more verb like that in Serbian. It’s the verb moći (can).


  1. (ja) želim
  2. (ti) želiš
  3. (on/ona/ono) želi
  1. (mi) želimo
  2. (vi) želite
  3. (oni/one/ona) žele

Now let’s move on to the similarities and differences between these two verbs!

(Sometimes) Synonyms

The two mentioned verbs are often synonymous. It means they have the same meaning, and we can choose which one to use freely.

For example, you can say:

  • Hoću čaj. (I want tea.)
  • Želim čaj. (I want tea.)

Both sentences are correct, but the one with želeti is more polite. The one with hteti is harsher, like a demand.

However, saying Želim čaj is more common in the children’s world. A child will likely ask their parents for a cookie using this verb. Also, it’s funny how kids often use this polite verb while screaming they WANT chocolate NOW.

Why do kids mostly use it? Probably because this verb comes from the noun želja (wish). So, parents often ask their children, “What do you wish for Christmas?” or tell them, “Make a wish” for their birthday. Unfortunately, when we grow up, no one seems to care about asking us about our list for Santa!

Adults use this verb mainly when someone asks them to choose between two things. For example:

  • Da li želiš kafu ili čaj? (Do you want coffee or tea?)
  • Želim čaj, hvala. (I want tea, thank you.)

Although, even in these situations, we’ll usually omit the verb želeti and answer:

  • Može čaj, hvala. (Tea is all right, thank you.)

Grammatical forms with the Verbs Želeti and Hteti

The verbs act the same way grammatically. After both of them, we can use:

  • an object in the accusative, or
  • another verb (in the form of infinitive or da + prezent).

For example:

  • Želim objašnjenje! (I want an explanation!)
  • Želim da čujem objašnjenje! (I want to hear an explanation!)
  • Želim čuti objašnjenje! (I want to hear an explanation!)

To make sentences with the verb hteti, simply replace the verb želeti with it! The rest will remain the same.

The last two sentences mean the same thing. The only difference is the verb form we chose. In the first one, we used the construction da + present tense, while in the other, we opted for an infinitive.

Although the second one should be a better choice, you’ll mostly hear the first one learning Serbian in Serbia. It’s so common that the second one sounds odd to us. In Croatia, for example, you’ll only hear the second version.

Asking Politely

If you’ve come further in your journey of learning Serbian, you’ve learned about potencijal. It’s a tense translated to the English (I) would…

For example:

  • Želela bih limunadu. (I would like a lemonade.)
  • Volela bih limunadu. (I would like a lemonade.)

In this context, the two verbs are absolute synonyms. There isn’t any difference in meaning between them, and they’re both extremely polite. You can read more about it in our previous blog text about common doubts while learning Serbian.

These forms are sometimes used in restaurants while ordering. But you can use them whenever you want to be polite while asking for something or talking about your wishes.

For example:

  • Želela bih da živim na Havajima jednog dana. (I would like to live in Hawaii someday.)
  • Volela bih da živim na Havajima jednog dana. (I would like to live in Hawaii someday.)

Auxiliary Verb Hteti

The final and possibly crucial difference between these two verbs is that the verb hteti is used as an auxiliary verb, too!

We use it to form the future tense in Serbian. It’s one of the key components of the Serbian future tense.

If you’d like to read about the future tense in Serbia in detail, check out our blog post dedicated exclusively to the future tense.

If you don’t have time right now to read the whole other blog post, here’s a shorter explanation. So, if you’re learning Serbian and want to use the future tense, you need to know two things:

  • the infinitive of the verb (very easy, since that’s the basic form of the verb; it’s the form used to introduce new verbs and the one in which you can find verbs in a dictionary)
  • the conjugation of the verb hteti in the present tense (you can see this conjugation at the beginning of this blog text).

There’s one more thing to remember. When forming the future tense, we don’t use the full form of the verb hteti, but the short one. You can easily get the short form by removing the first two letters of the long one. It looks like this:

  1. ću
  2. ćeš
  3. će
  1. ćemo
  2. ćete
  3. će.

Can you see what we did there? Instead of hoću, we have ću. Instead of hoćeš, we have ćeš. And so on.

So, here are some examples of the future tense you’ll find useful while learning Serbian:

  • Ići ću i u subotu na posao. (I’ll go to work on Saturday, also.)
  • Ivan će pozvati Maju na sastanak. (Ivan will ask Maja for a date.)
  • Da li ćeš mi pomoći sutra? (Will you help me tomorrow?)

Finally: What’s the Difference?

You’re maybe still wondering about the difference between these two verbs since you can often use them interchangeably.

These are the main differences:

    • can mean both to want and to wish
    • related to the word želja (a wish)
    • used more when we daydream than when we’re sure about doing something in the future (Želim da dobijem na lutriji. = I wish to win the lottery.)
    • more polite in the present tense
  • HTETI:
    • can mean both want and will 
    • often used when we’re dedicated to doing something, and believe it will happen (Hoću da počnem zdravo da se hranim. = I want to start eating healthily.)
    • firmer in the present tense.

As a cherry on top, here’s a Serbian song from the 80s, titled Koketa, but famous for its unofficial name Ja hoću samo tebe (I want only you). Both verbs are mentioned in the chorus, so it’s great for practicing this lesson. Enjoy!