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Think of, Think about: What's the Difference? (Audio Reading and Practice Questions Included)



Recommended level: Upper Intermediate


Quick Reference

  • "Think of" is typically used for quick instances of thought, such as when a person has an idea, or when an image or other mental impression comes to their mind, either suddenly or after a period of consideration. Example: "I just thought of something that might help us."

  • "Think about" is typically used for longer periods of contemplation and consideration. Example: "I've thought about their offer and I've decided to decline it."

  • Both can be used when discussing possible courses of action. Example: "I thought of calling you," or "I thought about calling you."

  • Both can be used to ask about opinions, though "think of" is more common in this case, as in "What did you think of the third book?"

  • Both can be used when discussing something or someone who comes to your mind at a particular time, though "of" has a quicker "flash memory" feeling, and "think about" has a feeling of longer contemplation. Example: "This song always makes me think of my dad," or "This song always makes me think about my dad."


"Think of" and "think about" both relate to the act of thinking, but there are a couple of important differences between them. In general, these differences pertain to the speed of a person's thinking and how much time they spend on a particular thought.


But this isn't the whole story.


So, what's the difference between "think of" and "think about"? And are they ever interchangeable? To answer these questions, let's take a look at each phrase one at a time.


Think of

If you say you have thought of something, you mean that an idea, image, or other mental impression has come to you--it has appeared in your mind. We can think of solutions to problems, ideas for work projects, or possible courses of action that may be wise or unwise for us (or others) to take. Typically, when we think of something, it's like our minds are struck by lightning--by the thought that suddenly appears. "A-ha!" we might say if we think we have thought of something good or useful, or if we feel we have finally solved a difficult problem.


Allow me to paint one more picture in your mind to further illustrate this point. Perhaps you have seen this image in a cartoon or movie: A character is thinking. They are tapping their finger on their chin. They are in deep contemplation trying to find a solution to a problem. In this case, they are actually thinking about the problem. Then, all of a sudden, a lightbulb turns on above their head. Gasp! They have thought of the solution to their problem!


This is the essence of thinking of something: It is the appearance of an idea or image in one's mind--the sudden mental impression of something. This idea or image can come without warning or consideration. For example, you might think of your mom if you see a car on the street that reminds you of her. Objects and images can make us think of people and times from our lives. (They can also make us think about them, but we'll get to that a little later.) We can say that when we think of something, our ideas, images, and mental impressions come in a flash, meaning they come in an instant.


Conversely, we can think of something after a period of contemplation and consideration. Think of the lightbulb example above: Before the idea came to the person's mind, they spent some time contemplating--or thinking about--their problem or situation. However, it was the moment of revelation, which we can idiomatically call "the Eureka moment," which is when the person thought of a solution to a problem.


Finally, "think of" is also more commonly used than "think about" when we ask people their opinions of something, such as a book, a movie, a presentation, an event, or even of a person. You can ask someone what they thought of a director's new movie, for example, or what they think of your brother's new girlfriend.


Okay, I think we've had enough definitions and explanations for now. You want to see "think of" in action, right? So do I! So, let's take a look at some examples:


"I just thought of something that might help you."


"I've thought of five possible explanations for her decision." (As you can see, you can have multiple instances of thought. If you think of five possibilities, five solutions, or five different ways to do something, you have had five instances of thought...or perhaps five instances of genius!)


"Can you think of a reason why we shouldn't do this?"


"We've been trying to think of a way to tell you this all week, but there's no easy way to say it, so here goes: We won't be renewing your work contract."


"I can't think of anything. Does anyone have any good ideas?"


"When the job became available, I immediately thought of you."


"We need to think of a way out of this situation, fast."


"What did you think of the food at the restaurant? I thought it was a little too salty."


"Homemade chocolate chip cookies always make me think of my grandmother."


Now, it's your turn. Practice using "think of" by finishing the following sentences:


"I can't think of..."

"This song always makes me think of..."

"We need to think of..."


Think about

If you think about something or someone, you spend time contemplating it or them. For instance, if two companies have offered you two different jobs, you probably need time to consider the pros and cons, meaning the positives and the negatives, of each job. In short, you need time to contemplate, consider, or think about the offers.


We can think about decisions. We can think about problems. We can think about people. If we spend time and mental energy contemplating or considering something or someone, we think about it or them. Let's take a look at some examples:


"Can I get back to you later this week? I need a few days to think about this."


"She thinks about you all the time."


"I thought about what you said, and I've decided the answer is 'No.'"


"He wants you to think about what you're going to say."


"We've been thinking about this decision all week."


"I haven't thought about that movie in ages!" ("in ages" means "in a really long time")


"Do you ever think about what might have happened if you had made a different decision?"


Now, it's your turn. Practice using "think about" by finishing the following sentences:


"I don't like to think about..."

"Lately, I've been thinking about..."

"We seriously need to think about..."


When both are possible

There are some situations where "think of" and "think about" are mostly interchangeable.


For one, if you are asking someone about their opinion of something or someone, as mentioned above, "think of" is slightly more common, but "think about" is also possible. For instance:


"What do you think of the new guy?" or "What do you think about the new guy?"


"What did you think of the movie?" or "What did you think about the movie?"


"What do you think of these prices?" or "What do you think about these prices?"


You can also use "think of" or "think about" when you are talking about a potential course of action, or the potential consequences of an action. For instance:


"I've been thinking of moving to Paris," or "I've been thinking about moving to Paris."


"Think of what your mom would say," or "Think about what your mom would say."


"We were thinking of selling the company," or "We were thinking about selling the company."


"I'm thinking of calling her," or "I'm thinking about calling her."


Finally, it is possible to use both when you mention a thought that comes to your mind, but "think of" still has a stronger feeling of an instant thought--a "flash" image or idea, or multiple flashes of images or ideas--while "think about" has a feeling of longer contemplation. For example:


"This song always makes me think of my dad," meaning that my dad comes to my mind when I hear this song, or "This song always makes me think about my dad," meaning that I spend some time thinking about my dad when I hear this song.


There are also the common sentences "I never thought of it that way" and "I never thought about it that way." Both are perfectly fine, and when they are used spontaneously without any thought to "of" or "about," they can sound exactly the same, but the amount of time spent on contemplation is still slightly different.


It's a small nuance, but it's there.


Finally, here are some quotes which use "think of" and "think about." Think about what you have learned from this page while reading these words and how they use "of" and "about":


"What other people think of you is none of your business." -Regina Brett


"If you do not think about your future, you cannot have one." -John Galsworthy


"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive--to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." -Marcus Aurelius


"Whenever I think of the past, it brings back so many memories." -Steven Wright


"I've been thinking about you." -Lyrics from "Thinking about You" by Londonbeat


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