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I feel like I should know the answer to this by now, and/or that it should have been asked here, but I can't find it.

I was recently looking at some example sentences (I think linked from another question here, which I also can't find now), which talked about different uses of 'pensar':

Pienso ir a la playa → I'm thinking of going to the beach.

That makes perfect sense to me, and that's how I would translate the sentence to English. But when translating from English to Spanish, my natural inclination is rather:

Pienso en ir a la playa.

This made me realize I don't know the difference.

Can someone enlighten me? Are both correct? Do they have different meanings or connotations?

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According to how I use the verb pensar, I can describe these two meanings:

Pensar : followed by another verb, gives the idea of intention of performing the action of that second verb. I am thinking about doing that.

Pienso ir a la playa → I have the intention to go there. I mean it.

Pensar en: followed by another verb, means I am thinking about that action, like something philosophical.

Pienso en ir a la playa → I'm thinking about the action of going to a beach.

Pensar en: followed by a noun, means I am thinking about that person or thing. This is a meaning very close to the one above. In this meaning, the noun must be in its dative case, and you cannot use pensar without the preposition en.

Pienso en ti en este mismo momento.
* Pienso ti en este mismo momento.
* Te pienso en este mismo momento.

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  • "Te pienso" sounds like poetry. To tell you the truth, even though the explanation above is right, most speakers don't know the difference. So if they say: "Pienso en ir a la playa", they might have even fixed a date. So don't get surprised. If they don't have the date it is just a idea of going soon, a wish, a "Pensar en". – Octavio May 28 '15 at 4:37
  • +1. "Pienso ir a..." its like "I'm going to go..." or "I will go to...", it's an affirmation, the speaker alrady made his mind, he is going to do say action. "Pienso en ir..." would be more like "I would go to...", it's not 100% sure. For example, "'¿Qué haces esta noche? Pienso en ir al cine [si no llueve / si mis amigos me acompañan]" in contrast to "'¿Qué haces esta noche? Pienso ir al cine". – Zukki May 29 '15 at 19:37
  • Pensar en --> "Thinking of" or "thinking about" Pensar --> "Think" or "to think" – hfontanez Jun 5 '15 at 3:31
  • Nicolas is right. "Pienso ir a la playa" indicates INTENTION, not an affirmation. When someone asks you "¿Qué haces esta noche?", you can answer "Pienso ir al cine" or "Voy a ir al cine". There is HUGE difference between the two answers. The former indicate a some uncertainty. The latter is more of an affirmation. – hfontanez Jun 5 '15 at 18:44

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