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

The moods, phrases, and expressions of 'penser'

Deep in thought
Deep in thought. John Wildgoose/Caiaimage/Getty Images

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 require 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' plus 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 ! (very familiar) > He can stuff his bloody contract ! 
  • Lui, me dire merci ? Tu penses ? Penses-tu ? Pense donc ! (familiar) > Him ? Thank me ? I should be so lucky! You must be joking !
  • Tu penses bien que je lui ai tout raconté ! (familiar)  > I told him everything, as you can imagine.
  • Tu viendras à la fête ? > Will you come to the party ?
    Je pense bien ! (familiar) > Just (you) try and stop me !
  • Il est content ? > Is he pleased ?
    Je pense / tu penses bien ! (familiar) > You bet !
  • Tu n'y penses pas ! (familiar) > You can't be serious!
  • il ne pense qu'à ça ! (familiar, euphemism) > He's got a one-track mind.
  • N'y pense plus ! > Forget (all about) it !
  • Faire penser à > to remind
  • Cela me fait penser à mon frère. > It reminds me of my brother.
  • Fais-moi penser à l'appeler. > Remind me to call her.

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