The Many Ways of Expressing Intentions in Japanese

There are at least six ways that you can express your intentions in Japanese according to the Japan Foundation. Each one has its own nuance and level of conviction and commitment on the part of the speaker. Based on the situation and how serious you are about your intention, you can choose the most appropriate way to express it.

Six ways of expressing intentions in Japanese:

  1. ~ようと思います/思っています
  2. ~たいと思います/思っています
  3. ~予定だ/です
  4. ~つもりだ/です
  5. ~ことにする
  6. Dictionary form or ます form of a verb

The above grammar constructions are those listed by the Japan Foundation [1]. Perhaps you have already learned them at some point, but they can still be hard to differentiate. They range from just considering options to conviction that the intention will indeed materialize. Below we will look at the details of each in turn.


~ようと思います is the volitional form of a verb + 思う. This construction is used when you are conveying your intentions to a listener with an on-the-spot decision about what you will do.

Example sentences:
I’ve suddenly got a headache; I think I’ll leave work early.
I think I’ll finish reading this book today.
I think I’ll go hiking this weekend.

~ようと思っています is again the volitional form of a verb + 思う, but 思う is in progressive form. This construction is used when you are conveying your intentions to a listener about something you have been considering doing for awhile. The nuance is that you are leaning in a particular direction, but the decision is not necessarily finalized.

Example sentences:
I’m thinking of studying abroad in Japan for a year.
I am thinking about getting a master’s degree in marine biology.
I’m thinking of becoming an entrepreneur in the future.


~たいと思います is the ~たいform of a verb which expresses desire + 思う. This expression can be used in informal situations and a restricted set of formal situations in which it has a very specific use. The formal situations are speeches, presentations, and other social and public situations where the speaker has the authority to facilitate the situation [2]. It can be used to state what you are doing right now, the very next thing you will do, something you will do at a later point during the same occasion, or something you will do at a future occasion [2].

Since ~たい on its own can be a bit of a strong and blunt expression, adding on 思う softens it and makes it more polite. There is a nuance of “this is not the only possibility for what is happening next, I am open to objections/suggestions [2]”. So, in essence, ~たいと思います is used by the speaker for modesty’s sake and suppresses ostentation of authority by expression of desire [2].

Example sentences:
To start with, I would like to introduce our company’s products.
Next, I would like to present the results of the experiment.
Since the new product will go on sale tomorrow, at next month’s monthly meeting, I will announce the earnings of the first month of sales. 

In formal situations, if you use ~たいと思います/思っています too much outside of the contexts mentioned above, it could give the impression that you are not very decisive, or it might not be clear whether what you say you are going to will happen or not. Conversely, in casual situations ~たいと思います/思っています can be used more freely.

The literal translations are “I think I would like to” and “I have been thinking I would like to”, which are expressions that are also commonly used in English when a speaker wants to indicate that they are not quite decided or committed to something and still considering things. In the case of ~たいと思っています in particular, it can also be used to say, “I am hoping to…”.

Example sentences:
Q: What are your plans for the weekend?
A: Since it’s been a while, I think I might like to go see a movie. 
Q: What will you do after you graduate?
A: I am hoping to attend a language school in Japan to which I applied recently.
Once I have enough savings, I am hoping to quit my job and become an entrepreneur.

つもり (tsumori) vs. 予定 (yotei)

つもり (tsumori) and 予定 (yotei) are both used to express a future plan or action. At a high level, つもり is translated as “intention” and 予定 is translated as “plan”. In casual conversation, there are situations in which they could be used interchangeably, but there is a difference in nuance between the two words and cases in which it is more appropriate to use one versus the other.

つもり (tsumori) indicates both the subjective will or intention of the speaker and also communicates that there is an objective plan in place to do something. Conversely, 予定 (yotei) does not indicate any will or intention on the part of the speaker, it just means that an objective plan is in place.


When a speaker uses the expression [dictionary form of a verb + つもりだ/です] it indicates a strong conviction on their part about their intention to do something. Unlike the above expressions in which the speaker was not entirely committed to their plans at the time of utterance, ~つもりだ/です means that the speaker is firm on carrying out their plan.

Example sentences:
Q: What will you do with your degree in Japanese?
A: I intend to become a professional translator.
I intend to double the productivity of my department by this time next year.
At the end of this year, I will finally quit my job and starting next year I will become an independent entrepreneur. 


[Dictionary form of a verb / nounの + 予定だ/です] is a very neutral expression for indicating that a plan is in place. A speaker can use it for their personal plans, the plans of a group they are part of, or someone else’s plans. Therefore, it is not necessarily even the speaker that made the plan, it could have been decided by someone else. Because of its neutrality and objectivity, ~予定だ/です is commonly used in business situations.

Example sentences:
I will be going to Korea next month for a business trip.
Our new mini 8K camera model will be released in March.
That dealership will have a special sale on electric cars this July.


The expression [noun + ことにする] or [dictionary form of a verb / ない form of a verb + ことにする] is often used by a speaker when they decide on a course of action, of their own volition, after a certain amount of deliberation. Often there is more than one option to consider before finally choosing one. ~ことにする can be in either the present or past tense.

Example sentences:
For dessert, I will have the tiramisu. 
There were several cities to choose from for my year of study abroad in Japan. In the end I chose Fukuoka.
Since inflation has risen substantially, I decided not to take an international vacation this year.

Dictionary Form or ます Form of a Verb

The last one is the most straight forward way to state your intentions. Just use the dictionary form or ます form of a verb to say, “I will [verb]” or “I am going to [verb]”. The statement is unequivocal; there is no doubt or further consideration needed.

Example sentences:
Q: What are you doing this weekend?
A: I am going camping.
I will study abroad in Japan next year.
I am going back to school to learn programming.

Asking Others About Their Plans and Intentions in Japanese

By adding the question marking particle か, it is possible to ask people about their intentions using ~ようと思いますか, ~たいと思いますか, and ~つもりですか. But note that questions formed this way are normally reserved for speakers of a higher position in the social hierarchy, for example, an adult addressing children or a much older adult asking a younger adult.

Also, ~つもりですか can be used when demanding compensatory action from someone for a wrong that they have done. In the end, it is safest to just use the dictionary form or ます form of a verb + か. Otherwise, 予定 (which is neutral) can be used when asking about someone’s plans for a specific time period.

For example, try to opt for using 予定 rather than つもり when asking customers or business associates about their plans. Finally, ~何にしましたか can be used when you know that a someone was deliberating between multiple options before making a decision.  

Example sentences:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
You have talent. Are you planning on becoming a professional musician?
You scratched my car. How do plan on taking responsibility for it?
Do you have any business trips planned for next month?
Which option did you settle on in the end?

Decisions You Did Not Make and Humbly Expressing Intentions

In addition to the above mentioned ~予定です/だ, [dictionary form of a verb / ない form of a verb + ~ことになりました] can be used in situations in which you, or the group that you are apart of were not the unilateral decision makers, but rather, someone else made a decision for you. It can also be used when you want to be humble about what you will do. It means “it has been decided that” or “it has come about that”.

Example sentences:
I was decided that I will be getting transferred to a different department this coming April.
It has come about that I will be entering graduate school this September.


[1] 市川保子. 日本語国際センター客員講師. (2012). 日本語教育通信 文法を楽しく つもり(1). The Japan Foundation.

[2] 治田芽生. (2020). 文法化した「たいと思います」に関する分析ー「たいと思う」の対話上の機能の観点からー. 北海道大学大学院.

Colten Dumonceau

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