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As far as I can tell both translate to - "I want to study at university". I'm just wondering if one sounds more 'natural' in Japanese than the other and indeed whether either structure is more approriate in different situations or not.

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The latter sounds more natural to me. – user1016 Jan 13 '14 at 15:59
@ちょこれーと But can you imagine a context which would make the former sound more natural? – snailplane Jan 14 '14 at 3:51
@snailplane When you say what you want to study, then I think you need the を(orが). eg 大学で法学の勉強を/がしたいです。(=大学で法学を勉強したいです。) – user1016 Jan 14 '14 at 4:12
up vote 1 down vote accepted


Here, 勉強{べんきょう} is a noun, and したい is the verb being acted on it, so you have something like, "At university I want to do study." However, this direct English translation is a little ungrammatical, and the original Japanese isn't. So, with a little flexibility, perhaps we can capture the Japanese meaning with something like, "At university I really want to do some study!" By acting on the noun with a separate verb, it holds it up for emphasis.


Here, 勉強{べんきょう} is made into a verb by attaching したい directly to it without the particle. It becomes, "At university I want to study." This would most likely be the preferred way of expressing the idea.

Depending on the context in which you were speaking, 勉強をしたい could work, but if all you want to express is your desire to study at university, 大学で勉強したいです is the more natural of the two.

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I don't think an argument based on syntax really helps illuminate what the semantic difference is. 大学で勉強をしたい doesn't sound unnatural because it sounds ungrammatical (like the English), but rather because the focus is weird for this specific sentence. – Darius Jahandarie Jan 14 '14 at 2:53
@DariusJahandarie, Thanks for your comment, and I appreciate what you mean about focus, but there is a grammatical difference, and I think you might be discounting the unnaturalness of 勉強をしたい too much. – Questioner Jan 14 '14 at 3:15
I do not think 勉強をしたい is inherently unnatural, I think it's just unnatural in this case due to the context. I guess we just disagree on that point, which is driving our different explanations. – Darius Jahandarie Jan 14 '14 at 3:18
@DariusJahandarie, Fair enough. I agree it's not as unnatural as the English. Perhaps if you could think of an example where a [noun]をする construct merely created emphasis over the same noun in a [noun]する without sounding awkward, then that would drive your point home. As it is right now, I'm not sure what part of the context of 勉強 creates awkwardness that would not be there otherwise. – Questioner Jan 14 '14 at 3:25
If you want a translation in English which captures the nuance and has "do" in it, "In school, studying is what I want to do" is an option, but personally I think the "do" parallel is harmful rather than helpful here. – Darius Jahandarie Jan 14 '14 at 3:50

The difference is mainly that when you include the を, it emphasizes 勉強 a little, which is odd for this sentence.

"I want to study in school." (As opposed to doing something else in school.)

"I want to study in school."

With the right context, perhaps the former could be more natural, like if someone was annoying you to play a game or something, you could response 「学校で勉強をしたいですけど」 and it would be perfectly natural.

All that said, this nuance is very faint, I do not think anyone would look at you weird if you said the first thing even if you didn't want that extra implication.

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There is no difference in meaning.

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