How to Express Your Thoughts in Japanese

Tokyo, Japan
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There are subtle differences within every language when it comes to expressing thoughts and feelings. Beginning Japanese speakers may not need to fully grasp these concepts right away, but if you're expecting to communicate with fluency, it's important to get to know which verbs and phrases are most accurate when you need to speak your mind. 

The verb "to oumu" meaning "I think that," is the proper one to use in a variety of scenarios, including when expressing thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, and guesses. 

Since "to omou" always refers to the speaker's thoughts, "watashi wa" is normally omitted. 

Here are some examples of how to use to oumu properly in various sentence structures. First, some basic thoughts:

Ashita ame ga furu to omoimasu.
I think it will rain tomorrow.
Kono kuruma wa takai to omou.
I think this car is expensive.
Kare wa furansu-jin da to omou.
I think he is French.
Kono kangae o
dou omoimasu ka.

What do you think about
this idea?
Totemo ii to omoimasu.
I think it is very good.

If the content of the quoted clause expresses one's intention or speculation about a future event or state, a volitional form of a verb is used preceding to omou. To express a thought other than one's volition or opinion toward the future, a plain form of a verb or adjective is used preceding to omou as shown in the examples above.

Here are some possible examples of volitional forms of the verb to oumu. Notice they are subtly different from the examples above; these are situations that have not yet happened (and may not happen). These phrases are highly speculative in nature. 

Oyogi ni ikou to omou.
I think I'm going to swim.
Ryokou ni tsuite kakou to omou.
I think I will write about my trip.

To express a thought or idea you're have at the time of your statement, the form to omotte iru (I am thinking that ) is used rather than to omou. This conveys immediacy, but without any specific time frame attached.

Haha ni denwa o shiyou to
omotte imasu.

I'm thinking of calling my mom.
Rainen nihon ni ikou to
omotte imasu.

I'm thinking of going to Japan
next year.
Atarashii kuruma o kaitai to
omotte imasu.

I'm thinking that
I want to buy a new car.

When the subject is a third person, to omotte iru is used exclusively. It calls on the speaker to speculate on another person's thoughts and/or feelings, so it's not a definitive or even provable statement 

Kare wa kono shiai ni kateru to omotte iru.


He thinks he can win this game.

Unlike English, the negation "I don't think" is normally placed within the quoted clause. It is possible to negate to omou such as "to omowanai," however it expresses stronger doubt and is closer to the English translation "I doubt that." It's not a strong negation, but it conveys doubt or uncertainty.

Maki wa ashita
konai to omoimasu.

I don't think
Maki is coming tomorrow.
Nihongo wa
muzukashikunai to omou.

I don't think Japanese is difficult.
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Abe, Namiko. "How to Express Your Thoughts in Japanese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). How to Express Your Thoughts in Japanese. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "How to Express Your Thoughts in Japanese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).