All About the French Verb "Penser" ("to Think")

Deep in thought

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Penser is a regular -er verb that means "to think," "assume," "suppose." Penser is used much like its English equivalents, but there are a few aspects that make this verb a little tricky. Here, we lay out which verb mood to use with penser, the difference between penser à and penser de, the meaning of penser followed by an infinitive, and a few essential expressions with penser.

"Penser" and Verb Moods

Penser is one of those French verbs that requires the indicative mood when used in a declarative statement, but the subjunctive when used in a question or a negative construction. The reason for this is that when a person says "Je pense que..." whatever comes after que (the subordinate clause) is, in that person's mind, a fact. There is no doubt or subjectivity. However, when someone says "Penses-tu que..." or "Je ne pense pas que..." the subordinate clause is no longer a fact in that person's mind; it is doubtful. Compare the following examples:

  • Je pense qu'il est prêt. I think he's ready.
  • Penses-tu qu'il soit prêt? Do you think he's ready?
  • Elle ne pense pas qu'il soit prêt. She doesn't think he's ready.
  • Nous pensons que Marie vient à midi. We think Marie is coming at noon.
  • Pensez-vous que Marie vienne à midi? Do you think Marie is coming at noon?
  • Ils ne pensent pas que Marie vienne à midi. They don't think Marie is coming at noon.

"Penser à" versus "Penser de"

Both penser à and penser de can usually be translated as "to think about." The problem is that this English phrase has two different meanings.
Penser à means "to think about" in the sense of "to have in one's mind, to consider, to think over."

  • À quoi penses-tu ? What are you thinking about?
  • Je pense à mon frère. I'm thinking about my brother.
  • Tu penses à quelqu'un pour ce projet? Are you thinking about someone for this project (do you have someone in mind)?
  • Il pense à ce qu'il doit faire demain. He's thinking about what he has to do tomorrow.
  • Pensez-y avant de décider. Think about it before deciding.(Remember that y replaces à + noun.)

Penser de, on the other hand, means "to think about" in the sense of "to have an opinion about."

  • Qu'est-ce qu'ils pensent de ma maison? What do they think about my house?
  • Que penses-tu de ce film? What do you think about this movie?
  • Elle pense du bien du projet. She thinks highly of the project (she has a high opinion of it).
  • Je ne sais pas ce qu'il pense de notre idée. I don't know what he thinks about our idea.
  • Qu'en pensez-vous ? What do you think (about it)? (Remember that en replaces de + noun.) 

"Penser" Infinitive

Penser followed by an infinitive means "to be thinking of / consider doing."

  • Je pense aller au cinéma. I'm thinking about going to the movies.
  • Penses-tu continuer tes études ? Are you considering continuing your studies?
  • J'ai pensé visiter le musée. I thought about visiting the museum.

Expressions and Examples with "Penser"

  • Qu'en penses-tu? What do you think of it ?
  • Je ne sais qu'en penser. I don't know what to think / I can't make up my mind about it.
  • Je pense que oui. (Yes) I think so
  • Je pense que non. (No) I don't think so / I think not.
  • Je pense que tu devrais lui dire. I think you should tell him.
  • Je n'en pense que du bien / mal. I have the highest / lowest opinion of it.
  • Qu'est-ce qui te fait penser qu'il ment? What makes you think he's lying ?
  • Quoi qu'on pense. Whatever people (may) think
  • Quoi que tu puisses penser. Whatever you (may) think
  • Je le pensais diplomate. I thought he was tactful.
  • Il a marché dans ce que je pense. He walked in some you-know-what.
  • Tu vas prendre un coup de pied là où je pense! You're going to get a kick up the backside !
  • Son contrat, il peut se le mettre (là) où je pense! He can stuff his bloody contract ! 
  • Lui, me dire merci? Tu penses? Penses-tu? Pense donc! Him ? Thank me ? I should be so lucky! You must be joking !
  • Tu penses bien que je lui ai tout raconté! I told him everything, as you can imagine.
  • Tu viendras à la fête? Will you come to the party?
  • Je pense bien! Just (you) try and stop me !
  • Il est content? Is he pleased?
  • Je pense / tu penses bien!  You bet !
  • Tu n'y penses pas! You can't be serious!
  • il ne pense qu'à ça! He's got a one-track mind.
  • N'y pense ! Forget (all about) it !
  • Faire penser à—To remind of.
  • Cela me fait penser à mon frère. It reminds me of my brother.
  • Fais-moi penser à l'appeler. Remind me to call her.