Saying "I think that..."

This lesson is on how to say, "I think that..." in Japanese.

To do so, we use the particle と and the verb 思う (おもう // to think).

Making these sentences might seem a little complex at first, but stick with me. I was able to learn this grammar point fairly early in my own Japanese studies, and it was extremely useful in the years to follow.


 The Particle と 

...has quite a few meanings.

The first one that people usually learn is that と can mean "and" or "with."

For example, take a look at this casual conversation where と means "and":

なに たべた?
What did you eat?
Literally: “what + ate?”

ナッツ と フルーツ。
Nuts and fruit.
Literally: “nuts + と (=and) + fruit.”

And here's a more formal sentence where と means "with":

ともだち と いっしょに えいがかん に いきました。
I went to the movies with my friend [with some friends].
Literally: “friend(s) + と (=with) + together (with) + movie theater + に + went.”

...or maybe we should say that と combines with 一緒に (いっしょに) to mean "together with." By the way, aside from meaning "together," in isolation the word 一緒 (いっしょ) can mean "same" or "identical." We'll see it again in the future.

と can also be a "verbal quotation marker."

Take the following sentence, for example:

「さむい」 と いいました。
"I'm cold," he said. // "It's cold," she said.
Literally: “cold + と + said.”
Note: Depending on context, this sentence could have a number of varying translations.

In English, when we want to explicitly mention that we're quoting someone, we use quotation marks. In Japanese, they have their own version of quotation marks, too, which are these symbols: 「」.

But they also mark quotes verbally when speaking. This is often done with the particle と, but it can also be done with the more causal って, which we'll be seeing a lot of in future lessons.

I'm mentioning this somewhat confusing usage of と in this lesson because we use it when saying "I think that..."


...と思うI think that...

Let's just dive right into an example.

You're packing for a trip to Hokkaido with your significant other, and you say...

さむい かな。
I wonder if it’ll be cold (there). // I wonder if it’s cold (there).
Literally: “cold + かな.”

Your significant other says...

さむい と おもう よ。
I think it’ll be cold. // I think it’s cold.
Literally: "cold + と + think + よ."

It always helped me to think of と as a "verbal quotation marker" because I could imagine that sentences like this one above are saying: "It'll be cold," I think. or "It's cold," I think.

In other words, the format of our grammatical construction is:

[thought] と思う
= I think (that) [thought]

Are you with me still?

Well, let's take a detour...


🚙 Detour 🚙

Take another look at the end of this sentence:

さむい かな。
I wonder if it’ll be cold (there). // I wonder if it’s cold (there).
Literally: “cold + かな。”

Do you know what this かな means?

Just looking at the translation, guessing that it means "I wonder if..." might not be too difficult. But why does it mean that?

First, か can be thought of (in this case) as a question-ending particle.

We've already seen how か can attach to the end of ます-form words when asking formal questions:

たべます か?
Are you going to eat? // Would you like to eat? // Do you want (to eat) some?
Literally: “eat + か?”

な, on the other hand, is what I like to refer to as "inward ね."

We use ね when we are soliciting some type of feedback or acknowledgement from the listener. Consider the difference between:

It’s good.
Literally: “tasty / delicious.”

おいしい ね。
It’s good, huh? // It’s good, isn’t it?
Literally: “tasty / delicious + ね.”

↑ It's not always necessary to explicitly translate ね like this, but we can do so.

な is like directing a ね at yourself. In other words, な is placed at the end of sentences in order to indicate that you are talking to yourself out loud (and people are welcome to chime in if they wish).

Accordingly, ending a sentence with "か + な" is like asking a question to yourself, which is why I used the translation "I wonder if..."

さむい かな。
I wonder if it’ll be cold (there). // I wonder if it’s cold (there).
Literally: “cold + かな.”

Cool, yeah?

🔚 End Detour 🔚


Where was I?

Oh yeah, と思う.

The tricky thing that we have to learn in this lesson is that the word coming directly before the と in と思う will typically be a word in plain form.

In other words, you should NOT say:

✕ ...noun/na-adjectiveですと思う
✕ ...noun/na-adjectiveでしたと思う
✕ ...V ますと思う
✕ ...V ませんと思う
✕ ...V ましたと思う
✕ ...V ませんでしたと思う

("V" stands for "VERB," by the way.)

But you CAN say:

〇 ...noun/na-adjectiveと思う
〇 ...noun/na-adjectiveだったと思う
〇 ...V ると思う
〇 ...V ないと思う
〇 ...V たと思う
〇 ...V なかったと思う

And you can also place i-adjectives directly before と思う:
〇 ...-いと思う
〇 ...-かったと思う

That's a somewhat overwhelming list, yeah?

But you don't really need to memorize it all at once because we will look at varying rules for attaching words to other words hundreds of times in our lessons. In doing so, most of these rules will start to feel natural, and you won't have to think about them too much. That's what (thankfully) happened in my case, at least. ^^


🏙 Example City 🏙

Before we travel to Example City, let's review verb conjugations for 思う (おもう).

Come on. At least pretend to like studying verb conjugations.

思う(おもう // think
思います(おもいます // think

思った(おもった // thought
思いました(おもいました // thought

思わない(おもわない // don't think
思いません(おもいません // do not think

思わなかった(おもわなかった // didn't think
思いませんでした(おもいませんでした // did not think

思ってる(おもってる // am thinking
思っている(おもっている // am thinking
思っています(おもっています // am thinking

思ってた(おもってた // was thinking
思っていた(おもっていた // was thinking
思っていました(おもっていました // was thinking

If you don't understand the different levels of formality and verb conjugation rules being used here, please go back and review past lessons.

Or just don't worry about it. "Lazy studying" is better than no studying, yeah?

Now for the examples.

I've kept explanations to a minimum, as this lesson is already getting pretty long. Just take things slowly and read the word-by-word breakdowns if you find yourself getting overwhelmed...

いちじ ぐらい に おわる と おもう。
I think it will end around one o’clock.
Literally: “one o’clock + approximately / about + に + end + と + think."

ひどい と おもわない?
Don’t you think that’s terrible? // Isn’t that so terrible of her [him / them]?
Literally: “cruel / heartless / terrible + と + don’t think?”

アラスカ って カナダ だ と おもってた。
I had thought that Alaska was part of Canada.
Literally: “Alaska + って + Canada + だ + と + was thinking.”
Note: Here って is acting somewhat like a casual version of the particle は. More on this in future lessons.

あの ひ は たしか すいようび だった と おもいます。
It was a Wednesday, if I remember correctly.
Literally: “that + day + は + if I remember correctly + Wednesday + was (=だった) + と + think.”

See たしか in that above sentence? Be sure that you don't confuse it with 確かに (たしかに), which means "certainly." We have a lesson on this: [NDL #150] - Certainly... err, uhh... if I'm not mistaken.


🎇 Bonus Sentence 🎇

Don't be too thrown off if you see a particle placed right in front of the と in と思う:

しぬ か と おもった!
I thought I was gonna die!
Literally: “die + か + と + thought!”

As you progress through your studies, you'll also come across cases in which the と is separated from 思う. For example, consider this:

おいしい と は おもわない。
I wouldn't say that it tastes good. // I don't think that it tastes good (but...)
Literally: “tasty / delicious + と + は + don't think.”

Explaining how とは changes the nuance of that sentence would take an entire lesson, so please forgive me if I don't attempt it here! We'll get to it eventually.


Take your time with this lesson. Being able to say "I think (that) blah blah blah" will vastly improve your communicative ability.

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