How do you say “think” in Spanish? Is it Pensar or Creer? Let’s discuss these two verbs so that we can properly translate “think” from English into Spanish.
Tenemos que pensar en esto.
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Let’s learn the verb Pensar, which means “to think”, specifically when you’re emphasizing what you’re thinking about, or the action of thinking. Here’s a simple example:
Wait, I have to think.
Espera, tengo que pensar.
When you talk about what you’re thinking about, Pensar actually usually takes the preposition en. It’s kind of like saying that you’re thinking “on” something. So here’s an example:
We think about this sometimes.
Pensamos en esto a veces.
But also remember that you use the verb Creer instead where in some cases we’d use “think” in English; for example:
You’re going to think it’s the same person.
Vas a creer que es la misma persona.
In this case we use Creer because when we say “think”, what we mean is “believe”: “You’re going to believe it’s the same person.”
Let’s do a mini-quiz to practice choosing between Pensar and Creer. For the purposes of this quiz, we’re only going to use unconjugated forms, such as pensar, pensado, and pensando, as well as pensamos for “we think”.
We have to think about this.
Tenemos que pensar en esto.
We think about this problem all the time.
Pensamos en este problema todo el tiempo.
We don’t think that she’s here.
No creemos que ella esté aquí.
I’m thinking about talking to them.
Estoy pensando en hablar con ellos.
There are those who are thinking about that.
Hay quienes están pensando en eso.
They think that we never think.
Creen que nosotros nunca pensamos.
Now let’s learn our other forms of Pensar. For the most part, Pensar is a regular verb, meaning that it’s conjugated like Hablar. But there are some important exceptions that we have to talk about.
Remember that when we learned to conjugate Hablar, the only part of the verb that significantly changed from form to form was the very ending, the A-R. So hablar became hablo or hablamos or hablé, and lots of other forms.
There’s a technical term that separates that ending of the verb from the rest of it. The whole part of the verb before the A-R is what we call the “stem”. The “stem” is the part of the verb that normally doesn’t change at all.
However, for some verbs, including Pensar, the stem itself does change sometimes. And this specifically happens when the stem is accented.
Here’s what I mean. In many forms of Pensar, the part after “pens” is accented. This is true of the infinitive, pensAR, as well as the word for “we think”, pensAMos. It’s also true of all the preterite forms: pensé, pensó, pensaste, pensaron, and pensamos. All of these are conjugated exactly like Hablar.
But there are a few forms that put the stressed syllable on the stem itself, particularly some of the present-tense forms. Let’s start by looking at where this is true for Hablar. The infinitive puts the stress on “AR”, hablar, not on the stem, or the first syllable. But the form for “I talk” puts the stress on the stem: HABlo. In fact, most of the present-tense forms put the stress on the first syllable, the stem, all except for hablamos. So we have HABlo, HABla, HABlas, HABlan, but then hablAMos.
Now you would think that the equivalent forms for Pensar should put the stress on “pen”. So we would have “penso”, “pensa”, “pensas”, “pensan”, and then “pensamos”. But for this verb, when that stem is stressed, we actually bend the vowel and change it from “pen” to “pien”.
There’s actually a reason for this, and it has to do with some interesting tendencies in Spanish pronunciation in general. Think about it this way: The Spanish language has a strong tendency toward the sound of the syllable “yen”. You’ve encountered this in many words already; for example, the words bien, tiene, quién, haciendo, mientras, and many others; they have a prominent “yen” sound. So Spanish *could* have decided to stress “penso”, “pensa”, “pensas”, and “pensan”, but what it’s landed on instead is pienso, piensa, piensas, and piensan. Again, this specifically applies when that syllable is stressed, not when it’s unstressed.
Let’s do a quick mini-quiz to practice this. I’m going to ask you to name different forms of Pensar. Some are going to stress the stem and so they’ll trigger the stem change; others are going to stress the part after the stem, so they’ll just start with “pen” instead of “pien”.
So let’s begin with the word for “we think” …pensamos
What’s the word for “I think” …pienso
What’s the word for “he/she thinks” …piensa
What’s the word for “I thought”, in the preterite tense …pensé
How about the preterite form for “we thought”…pensamos
What’s the preterite form for “he/she thought” …pensó
What’s the informal word for “you think” …piensas
What about the preterite for “you thought” …pensaste
How about the preterite for “they thought” …pensaron
And what’s the word for “they think” …piensan
OK, now let’s put all of these into sentence contexts using a quiz.
She didn’t think about them.
No pensó en ellos.
They all think the same.
Todos piensan igual.
We think about what you said, but I think more than them.
Pensamos en lo que dijiste, pero yo pienso más que ellos.
I thought about my family.
Pensé en mi familia.
You never think… What about your friends?
Nunca piensas… ¿Qué hay de tus amigos?
They thought about talking quietly.
Pensaron en hablar bajo.
We didn’t think about the same things you thought.
No pensamos en las mismas cosas que tú pensaste.
He says he thinks when he is alone, but in reality he doesn’t do it.
Dice que piensa cuando está solo, pero en realidad no lo hace.
Next let’s work on the subjunctive forms of Pensar. These are just like the present-tense forms, but with an E near the end instead of an A or an O. So we have piense, pienses, piensen, and pensemos. So once again, just like in the present-tense forms, when the stem itself, the first part of the word, is stressed, it turns from pen into pien.
Let’s practice these.
I hope they think about this.
Espero que piensen en esto.
Maybe you think about that too much.
Quizás tú pienses en eso demasiado.
As soon as she thinks about that, she will tell us it.
Tan pronto como piense en eso, nos lo dirá.
She wants me to think about her idea.
Quiere que yo piense en su idea.
They don’t want us to think about the place beyond the city.
No quieren que pensemos en el lugar más allá de la ciudad.
She told us the truth so that we think about our problem.
Nos dijo la verdad para que pensemos en nuestro problema.
I want you (formal) to think for us.
Quiero que usted piense por nosotros.
The imperfect forms of Pensar are also pretty common, and they’re perfectly regular: pensaba, pensabas, pensaban, and pensábamos. Let’s practice these.
You were thinking about your family.
Pensabas en tu familia.
He was thinking about going with her.
Él pensaba en ir con ella.
I was thinking about our game.
Yo pensaba en nuestro juego.
You (formal) were thinking the same thing we were thinking.
Usted pensaba lo mismo que nosotros pensábamos.
The imperatives are also pretty commonly used. The informal imperative to say “think” is simply piensa, exactly the same as the third-person singular, just like the informal imperative for “speak” is habla. For example:
Think about your family.
Piensa en tu familia.
And then the rest of the imperatives are the same as their corresponding subjunctives. For example:
(formal) Think about your family.
Piense en su familia.
Let’s think about our people.
Pensemos en nuestro pueblo.
Let’s practice these.
(Formal) Think about your children!
¡Piense en sus hijos!
Don’t think about that, it’ll be fine.
No pienses en eso, estará bien.
Think before saying it loudly!
¡Piensa antes de decirlo alto!
Let’s think quite a bit before doing it.
Pensemos bastante antes de hacerlo.
To wrap up, there are also a couple of contractions that are pretty common, such as pensarlo, literally “think it”. This is a bit weird, because normally Pensar doesn’t take a direct object; thinking about something is usually something more like pensar en eso. But in everyday speech in Spanish, it’s common to use the direct object pronoun lo as shorthand for thinking about something. Here are two common uses:
Let me think about it for a moment.
Déjame pensarlo por un momento.
Think about it well!
In that last case, “think about it well” is the idiomatic way to tell someone to think thoroughly or carefully about something.
Let’s practice pensarlo and piénsalo, as well as this use of bien.
Think about it before saying anything.
Piénsalo antes de decir algo.
You have to think about it well.
Tienes que pensarlo bien.
First, think about it carefully; after thinking about it, you can do it.
Primero, piénsalo bien; después de pensarlo, puedes hacerlo.
For more practice with any of this, feel free to dig deeper at LCSPodcast.com/117. Or if you’re ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz. This quiz is going to combine instances of Pensar and Creer, so when you’re not sure which verb to choose, remember to use the “believe test”: If it would make to say “believe” instead of “think”, you’ll choose Creer; otherwise, use Pensar.
At that moment she thought about doing it.
En ese momento pensó en hacerlo.
She always thinks, but she doesn’t have to think.
Siempre piensa, pero no tiene que pensar.
We are thinking about ourselves.
Pensamos en nosotros.
I can’t believe that she did it kind of well.
No puedo creer que lo hizo medio bien.
I used to believe the same thing you believe now.
Yo creía lo mismo que crees ahora.
We aren’t thinking about you.
No estamos pensando en ti.
Think! You can’t do that!
¡Piensa! ¡No puedes hacer eso!
She doesn’t want me to think about that, because I used to believe it.
No quiere que yo piense en eso, porque lo creía.
She thinks we have to think about it.
Ella cree que tenemos que pensarlo.
We always think, but we never talk about that.
Siempre pensamos, pero nunca hablamos acerca de eso.
Think it again! You didn’t think it at all.
¡Piénsalo otra vez! No lo pensaste nada.
Believe me! You have to believe it.
¡Créeme! Tienes que creerlo.
I thought about war, or about something worse.
Pensé en la guerra, o en algo peor.
I’m thinking about doing something quickly in the board game.
Estoy pensando en hacer algo rápido en el juego de mesa.
I want you to think this so you can believe it.
Quiero que pienses esto para que lo puedas creer.
(Formal) Think about your job!
¡Piense en su trabajo!
I guess you and I don’t think the same.
Supongo que tú y yo no pensamos igual.
I hope she thinks about her safety.
Espero que piense en su seguridad.
I thought she just had her list.
Creí que justo tenía su lista.
Believe that you can do it!
¡Cree que puedes hacerlo!
I used to think this was the reality, but now I don’t believe it.
Creía que esta era la realidad, pero ahora no lo creo.
Don’t ever think about it!
¡Jamás lo pienses!
She used to think about what you think (about) now.
Ella pensaba en lo que tú piensas ahora.
For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/117
In tomorrow’s episode, we’ll explore a bunch of adjectives including the words for “tall”, “clear”, “fast”, and “clever”.
This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was performed by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.