11 Words for Wanting Something You Can’t Have

At some point in our life, we’ll wish we had something that is completely unattainable. It may be exorbitant wealth or an unreturned love. But, either way, it’s a pretty nasty feeling!

So, if you’re wondering what to call the sensation of wanting something you can’t have, the list of terms and phrases below should help!

What Is It Called When You Want Something You Can’t Have?

  • Pining
  • Covetousness
  • Pipe dream
  • Longing
  • Yearning
  • Unobtainable
  • Envy
  • Inaccessible
  • Unreachable
  • Unrequited
  • Unreciprocated


  • You can call a strong desire to be with someone else “pining.”
  • “Covetousness” is a desire to possess some rare or expensive material item.
  • A “pipe dream” is a fanciful idea that is unlikely to come to fruition.

Stick around! We still need to discuss our top three terms for wanting something you can’t have in more detail.

After that, we’ll show you how to describe this phenomenon using each of our terms in some example sentences.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to “pine” means “to strongly desire esp. something that is difficult or impossible to obtain.”

We usually use this phrase in reference to a romantic desire to be with or around another person.

It can also refer to a feeling of heartache because we miss or long for another person. However, we can’t have them because they are far away or, worse, they don’t love us back. Sad face.

The word “pine” as it relates to a feeling of longing comes from the Middle English word “pinen” meaning “cause to starve.”

Therefore, we can see how it has come to mean a yearning or hunger for someone or something in a more figurative sense.

Let’s see a couple of example sentences making use of this term:

Billy’s just moody because he’s been pining over Steve all year and hasn’t had the courage to ask him out.

He has been pining over his wife since she left us three years ago.


Another word for desiring something difficult or impossible to obtain is “covetousness.” “Covetousness” refers to something you want but can’t have in a more superficial sense.

According to Merriam-Webster, to be “covetous” means “marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.”

Therefore, “covetousness” means that you have a deep desire to possess something as opposed to someone.

For some reason, human beings tend to desire rare and expensive things more, purely because they are rare or expensive.

We derive some pleasure from enjoying something that few other people have access to. Likewise, we feel less interested in things that are in abundance.

The psychological term for this phenomenon is “the scarcity effect.” It refers to a human tendency to place value on rarity, for reasons that are, frankly, pretty arbitrary!

Therefore, if you are experiencing “covetousness,” this is probably a result of the scarcity effect!

Have a look at how we’ve used the term “covetousness” in some examples:

In the end, his greed and covetousness were the cause of his downfall.

Until you learn to overcome your covetousness, you will never know true happiness.

Pipe Dream

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a “pipe dream” as “an idea or plan that is impossible or very unlikely to happen.”

Usually, we use the phrase “pipe dream” to describe an unrealistic or fanciful idea that someone has. We all get carried away now and then.

However, it can be very disappointing to have a brilliant scheme in mind only to realize that it is completely impossible to carry out.

The term “pipe dream” has a rather dark and fascinating etymology. This term originated in the 1870s and was used to refer to the bizarre or fanciful visions people had after smoking an opium pipe.

Therefore, if someone believes something ridiculous, we call it a “pipe dream” to imply that that they are deluded.

It’s similar to asking someone “what are you smoking?” when they make a ludicrous declaration.

So, we now know what a “pipe dream” is and where this term comes from. Now, let’s see this phrase in some example sentences:

Johannes believed he would be the most beloved man in the world, but I knew it was nothing but a pipe dream.

What I thought was a grand plan for my life turned out to be a pipe dream that I thought up due to my youth and naivety.