I recently had someone ask me about the difference between “think about,” “think of,” and “think on.” (Shout out to Benedito! Thanks!) As a native speaker, these phrasal verbs are not even a problem! But after studying the differences, I can see how incredibly confusing it can be. Below, I have described the most common ways to use phrasal verbs with “think.” So, let’s look at an easy way to remember the difference!
First we have:
Think about (someone or something)
Simply, this means to actively contemplate someone or something.
However, if you “contemplate,” that means you are having a deep thought or pondering. “Think about” is not (usually) the same as pondering or meditating a deep thought. Here are some examples:
“Whenever I think about him, I get goose bumps.”
“I don’t want to think about that movie, its too sad.”
“What are you thinking about right now?”
See? Those were simple thoughts, not too deep and not too quick.
♦ Using "think about" to mean thinking of a deep thought.
"Sometimes I think about the meaning of life."
♦ Using "think about" to mean consider.
"I thought about moving to Spain." ("I considered moving to Spain.")
Now, lets look at
Think of (someone or something)
Actually, the dictionary definition is the same for this phrase. HOWEVER- it is used in different contexts. Most commonly, “think of” is used as a fleeting thought/memory OR a fact that you know and would like to suggest to someone. For example,
[fleeting thought/memory]- “I think of you whenever I go to the restaurant where we used to eat.”
[fleeting thought/memory]- “I think of our old house sometimes.”
[fact/suggestion]- “Oh, I thought of an idea! We should go see a movie tonight.”
[fact/suggestion]- “I can’t think of any English examples for my lesson.”
Can you see how these thoughts were more quick? “Think of” ideas and short memories.
♦ Using "think of" to mean thinking of a deep thought.
"Sometimes I think of the meaning of life."
♦ Using "think of" to mean consider.
"I thought of moving to Spain." ("I considered moving to Spain.")
Think on/upon (someone or something)
This one is MUCH easier to understand! Any time you use “think on” or “think upon,” it is always with a deep thought. You are contemplating or reflecting on someone or something. When you “think on” something, you are focusing on that thought and nothing else. For example,
“I thought upon Abraham Lincoln and what a great man he was.”
“Son, you are being punished. Think on what you have done wrong.”
“I thought on all of the terrible things that had happened.”
Not so hard, right??
*Note: "Upon" is formal and less commonly used than "on."
So, now that we have covered these 3 very similar phrasal verbs, are they more clear to you? See if you can answer these questions to test your knowledge:
“Think _______” is always used with deep thought.
I should use “think _______” if I want to mention an idea or suggestion to my friend.
Using “think _______” is good for most situations when my thought is not long, yet not quick.
And the most important question:
Are there exceptions to these rules?
The answer is YES! There will always be exceptions with English. They should have named it “Exceptionish” rather than “English.” But if you follow these basic rules, you will be understood and will be able to understand what native speakers are saying a little better when they are using these phrasal verbs.
*I will be writing a PART 2 post about the other phrasal verbs with “think.” Any feedback and/or questions are welcomed anytime! I am here to help make English easier to understand, if anything is unclear I am glad to fix it! Thanks for reading 🙂