Wants in

Today's run makes you a champion. Who wants in?

The wants in construction consists of a form of the verbs want, need, or like followed by a preposition. In sentence (1), for example, a form of want is followed by a preposition, in, to convey a meaning similar to that expressed by the standard English sentences in (2):

1) The cat wants in.

2) a. The cat wants to come in.

b. The cat wants to get in.

While want is the most common verb associated with this construction, need and like are also used in this construction as shown in the following examples:

3) The kids need off the bus.

4) We liked through, but the gate was closed.

Who says this?

This construction is primarily found in the Midland dialect region of the United States, reaching from western Pennsylvania to western Kansas and through the Midwest. In recent years, acceptability of wants in appears to be spreading into northern and southern dialect regions as well (Benson 2009, 2012).

According to Benson (2009, 2012), the wants in construction is used across a broad range of socioeconomic classes, genders, and ages. It appears in both formal and informal speech, but is more common in casual circumstances. It has not been determined whether race has an effect on the acceptability of wants in, but a similar construction, needs washed was found to be predominantly used by white speakers (Murray & Simon 2002).


Forms of this construction are also found in Scots-Irish English. With large groups of historical Scottish and Irish settlement within the Midland dialect region, this may point to a place of origin for the wants in construction. Of the three verbs used, only two are acceptable within Scots-Irish English: want and like. Benson (2012) argues that while WANTS + PREPOSITION and LIKES + PREPOSITION originate overseas, NEEDS + PREPOSITION was created within the Midland region with indirect influence from Scots-Irish English.

Syntactic Properties

One property of the wants in construction is that the preposition in question can be followed by an additional prepositional phrase to specify or complete the state-change denoted by the first preposition, for example:

5) The cat wants off (of) the couch.

For many speakers, wants in feels intuitively like a truncated version of a lengthier verb phrase, such as wants to get/come in. TThere are, however, syntactic properties which distinguish wants in from its hypothetical counterpart. One such difference is that, in the longer verb phrase, the preposition can be further modified by an adverb like straight or right in the attributive (i.e. pre-adverb) position, while it cannot be in the wants in construction:

6) a. He wants to come right in after he’s finished raking.

b. ??He wants right in after he’s finished raking.

However, in both of these constructions, the unmodified version is acceptable:

7) a. He wants to come in after he’s finished raking.

b. He wants in after he’s finished raking.

Semantic Properties

Another differentiating factor between wants in and wants to get in is that wants in has a different situational distribution than the more concrete or movement-oriented wants to get in, for example:

8) a group of people are playing poker and Melissa wants to be dealt into the game:

a. Melissa wants in.

b. # Melissa wants to get in.

In this situation, in has a more abstract (see Benson 2012) interpretation (i.e. ‘in the game’ as opposed to ‘in a concrete and physically delimited space’) which is incompatible with get. Benson (2012) found this property to be a point of variation amongst speakers, with the most regionally limited and specific versions of the wants in being the concrete examples and the more broadly accepted being the abstract. This was confirmed by Reimink (2016) whose most widely accepted example was the abstract (9):

9) That sounds like a great plan. I want in.

The examples accepted by the fewest speakers are those with unambiguously concrete and physically specific interpretations, such as ‘likes down’ as in:

10) When Karly is tired of playing on the swing, she likes down.

Based on a discrepancy in the dialects of the present authors, we have identified another variation pertaining to whether or not the subject of a wants in sentence needs to be agentive or even animate at all. This difference mainly comes into play with the verb need, since, while verbs like want and like generally have animate subjects, need can have both the sense of a personal necessity/demand for an animate subject and of a situational requirement for an inanimate subject. Take the following example where the subject the car is inanimate and the verb need denotes a requirement of the situation, not a personal need of the car; this sentence is accepted by the author for whom the Midland dialect is native, but not by the other:

11) It’s going to snow tonight; the car needs in.

An alternative with an agentive/animate subject is accepted by both:

12) It’s freezing out here; I need in.

Benson (2009, 2012) and Reimink (2016) have also found that there is a fairly clear hierarchy in terms of the acceptability of specific verbs and prepositions for crafting wants in sentences. The lower on the hierarchy, the fewer speakers seem to accept the construction. For verbs, the hierarchy found by Reimink is:

13) Wants > Needs > Likes

And for prepositions, the hierarchy found by Benson and confirmed by Reimink is:

14) In > Out > Off > Down > By

These hierarchies are subject to mutual interaction and also to the effects of concrete/abstract distinctions; for instance, Reimink found needs off to be more broadly accepted than wants by. Additionally, an abstract reading of needs out is more broadly accepted than a concrete reading of wants out.

Finally, with the addition of the modal verb would, it has been observed that love can also be made acceptable for some speakers, as in I’d/would love in (this is another property shared with needs washed).

Related Phenomena

For a related phenomenon, see our page on needs washed, which shares many grammatical attributes with wants in but is much more geographically restricted.

Page contributed by Lane Fischer and Oliver Shoulson, July 10, 2020.

Please cite this page as: Fischer, Lane; Oliver Shoulson. 2020. 'Wants in'. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/wants-in. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD).


Phenomenon Dialect: 
Widespread American English
Midwestern American English