As human beings, we have the natural tendency to talk about what we want in conversation with friends and family, be it food, drink, sleep, company or something more profound.
In Italian, the infinitive verb for to want is volere and when expressing a personal desire in the first person, it can be conjugated in two ways.
(Io) voglio – Present tense
The first is the present indicative tense (Io) voglio… which translates as I want... in English.
Note that the personal pronoun io ( I ) is optional because the verb’s ending (voglio) already indicates who is carrying out the action. As in English, it can be followed by a noun or another verb. For example:
(Io) voglio una grande ciotola di gelato.
I want a big bowl of ice cream.
(Io) voglio andare al mare.
I want to go to the sea.
(Io) vorrei – Conditional tense
The second is the present conditional tense (Io) vorrei… which means I would like…
I would like…
Unlike English, which combines the auxiliary verb would with the verb to like, Italian directly conjugates volere into its conditional form. Once again, the personal pronoun io is optional thanks to the conjugation.
(Io) vorrei una grande ciotola di gelato.
I would like a big bowl of ice cream.
(Io) vorrei andare al mare.
I would like to go to the sea.
In the same way that would like is more polite than want in English, so too is vorrei more courteous and respectful than voglio in Italian.
It is perfectly fine to use (but not overuse!) voglio with your significant other, friends and close family but vorrei is definitely preferred when talking to acquaintances you don’t know very well, colleagues, older people, strangers, or people of a higher status.
Vorrei is also the safest option for non-native Italian speakers, especially when they first start learning, as overusing voglio might lead people to believe that you are self-centred!