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When looking up in my dictionary, "to think" is literally translated into pensar. However I'm always seeing people saying or typing "Creo que ..." when they're expressing opinions. For example:

I think the game is interesting.
Creo que es interesante el juego.

I think we'll miss the train if we don't hurry.
Creo que perderemos el tren si no nos apuramos.

According to my dictionary, I would've written (or spoken) "Pienso que ...", as creer means to believe. What am I missing here? When do we use pensar?

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  • In English in this context there is little if any difference between believe, think, reckon, etc. Nov 20 '17 at 12:20
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Creer and pensar can sometimes be used interchangeably, but not usually. Matching them up with English to believe and to think is not a good idea either. Trying to list the basic connotations of each, I'd say that it's like this:

creer

  • guess
  • belief or conviction
  • subjective judgement
  • quick assessment

pensar

  • (objectively) reported state of thoughts
  • informed opinion
  • possible plan

The verbs might overlap when used to report an assessment on some objective fact, e. g. someone else's work:

  1. Creo que ella trabaja muy bien.
  2. Pienso que ella trabaja muy bien.

To me these are roughly equivalent but creo que… shows it's just my opinion, while pienso que… somehow tells the hearer that I've given thought to the matter (maybe because I've been prompted to do so). Alternatively, creo que… could just be used to soften an otherwise direct (and possibly uncalled-for) assertion.

As for your example,

Creo que perderemos el tren si no nos apuramos.

Here creo que… is most natural, while pienso que… would sound a bit forced. As above, creer connotes subjective judgement (in this case, a rough, quick assessment of time). Pensar would more appropriate for another context; for example, you could be sitting with your friends checking railroad timetables, and after a while you could say:

Pienso que sería mejor salir temprano para alcanzar el tren de las 7:45.

Mind you, you could also say creo que… in the example above; it's only that pienso que… tells your hearers you've actually been thinking about it.

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In English one can also say, for example, "I believe we have quorum" or whatever it is.

Another approach to the interesting game example you gave, in English, would be, "I find this game quite interesting."

"Creo" is very similar to "pienso," but "creo" suggests more certainty in the opinion.

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  • Then when to use pienso?
    – iBug
    Nov 20 '17 at 5:05
  • @iBug - Sorry, I had not seen your question. I think that "pienso" is for situations where one is less certain (more doubtful). Nov 23 '17 at 20:56
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Pensar means to combine ideas in your mind, whereas believe means to assume that something is true without knowing that it is.

In Spanish, believe carries a stronger connotation. Compare:

  1. Creo que el juego es interesante. (= this is my judgement without being proven.)
  2. Pienso que el juego es interesante. (= this just my idea.)
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  • @walen I was trying to give iBug an example and noticed that I could not use them in the same way. I wanted to say (I think/I believe you native language is Chinese) = "Creo que tu idioma nativo es chino" but when I try to change it to pienso it did not sound right to me. If it sounds the same to you then indeed there are regional differences.
    – DGaleano
    Nov 20 '17 at 14:10
  • @walen What's the region you're in? Spain or Latin America?
    – iBug
    Nov 20 '17 at 16:06
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this is because the word "creer" can be actually translated to "assume"

and this leads to a wrong use of "pensar" as synonym of "creer"

we can exchange anywhere the words "creer" or "creer en" with "asumo" and the meaning of the sentences will remain the same

yet we cannot change the word "pienso" with "asumo" or the word. This is because the word "creer" in Spanish is always a belief based or not in real evidence (an assumption)

some other cases of wrong use synonyms can be found with other words like "ocupar"(occupy) and "necesitar"(need)

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  • Podemos debatir ampliamente en cuanto al uso y el significado del verbo "pensar", Creer y opinar tambien pueden ser intercambiados pues tienen un significado similar sin embargo creer y pensar no tienen un significado ni remotamente parecido, son las otras aproximaciones las que las llevan a caer en su uso ambiguo e incorrecto. y creer es perfectamente un sinonimo de uno de los significados de asumir que significa desde su origen etimologico "tomar" o "aceptar". Dime en que momento la facultad del hombre para razionalizar se convierte en una opinion ?
    – Mike
    Nov 22 '17 at 21:30

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