Synonyms for “Think”

By Mark Nichol

The bland verb think (from the Old English word thencan, and cognate with thank) is easily supplanted by any one of an impressive assortment of synonyms, each of which has a precise connotation think cannot match. Here are some to think about.

To cogitate is to think deeply and intently; the root of the word, which is unrelated to cognition (which refers to knowledge rather than thinking), stems from agitare (meaning “drive”), from which we also get agitate.

Contemplate connotes thought that is extensive as well as deep; another sense is “view as possible or probable.” The root of contemplatus, the Latin source word, is templum, the word for a place where omens are observed; it is cognate with temple.

Deliberate means to think carefully, as implied by its source, the adjective deliberate. An additional sense is “discuss before making a decision,” as when a legislative body meets to decide about whether to pass a law. (The derivation is from deliberare, meaning “consider carefully,” the root is possibly libra, meaning “pound” or “scale,” with the sense of weighing.)

To meditate is to focus one’s thoughts on something; the word, which can, alternatively, allude to planning, also refers to a mental exercise conducted in order to achieve a high state of spiritual awareness. (Meditate is derived from the Latin verb mederi, meaning “remedy,” and is related to medical and medicine.)

Mull, from the Middle English noun mul, meaning “dust,” is cognate with meal and refers not only to lengthy consideration but also to grinding.

Ponder has the connotation of carefully weighing a problem (as a matter of fact, ponder stems from the Latin verb ponderare, meaning “weigh,” and is related to ponderous), with the implication of extended inconclusive thinking. A similar term with the same etymological origin is perpend.

Reflect means, among other things, “think calmly and quietly”; its root is from flectere (meaning “bend”), which is also the source of flex.

To ruminate is to slowly and repeatedly go over something as if chewing it like a ruminant, a type of animal, such as a cow, that chews its food over and over again. (The word stems from the Latin term rumen, the name in that language and in English for part of a cow’s stomach.) “Chew over” is an informal synonym. Others include the word eye and the phrases “kick around,” “pore over,” and “wrestle with.”

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3 Responses to “Synonyms for “Think””

  • Dale A. Wood

    “To think” can be refined into smaller categories by adding a preposition, and some of those have synonyms, too:
    1. think about ~ consider. “I will think about it,” or “I will consider it.”
    2. think around ~ to not really come to grips with the situation.
    3. think of ~ to create a new idea, either deliberately or undeliberately. However, there is a contrary meaning, “I was thinking of my dear, deceased grandmother a moment ago.”
    4. think on ~ “reflect on”, deliberate, or cogitate upon. “I will think on it.”
    5. think over ~ “deliberate” or “ponder upon”. “I will think it over.”
    6. think through ~ cogitate, deliberate, or contemplate on.
    7. think up ~ to create a new idea, either deliberately or undeliberately
    “I thought up the most astonishing idea this morning!”
    8. think upon ~ contemplate. “I will think upon it.”
    Of course, several of these categories overlap drastically.
    Question: “indeliberately” or “undeliberately”?
    Some attention needs to be given to thinking deliberately or thinking indeliberately. Also, attention needs to be given to thinking creatively or thinking in routine ways. In other words, to the difference between right-brain thinking and left-brain thinking.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The most wonderful kind of thinking is creating up astonishing ideas undeliberately! (indeliberately? W/o deliberation?)
    Maybe the Catholic Church recognized this in Santa Barbara.
    Santa Barbara is the patron saint of mathematicians, of military engineers, of people who work with explosives (which military engineers do), and people who are afraid of being struck by lightning. (Say a little prayer to Santa Barbara when there is lighting around!)
    The most wonderful ideas in mathematics and related fields hit one like an explosion or like stroke of lightning!
    I’ve just been using her Spanish name because of Santa Barbara, California, the home county of the Univ. of California at Santa Barbara (in the town of Goleta). That is a place where many good ideas have come along like explosions or like bolts of lightning.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Everything in this article was originally about Left-brain Thinking, and that was a serious lacking by omitting everything about Right-brain Thinking. People who are into writing, editing, composition (like of music), etc., are heavily into left-brain thinking, and this is logical because our speech centers are almost always in the left hemisphere of our brains.
    On the other hand, mathematicians, engineers, physicists, etc., tend to do LOTS of right-brain thinking, but then we have to back that up by refining it with the left brain. The right brain creates the wonderful ideas, but it also makes a lot of mistakes that have to be ironed out.
    I have taken some comprehensive test on “Are you a left-brain or right-brain thinker?” My results plotted out that I am right in the middle of it. That comes from being a naturally right-brained thinker, but having a mother who was an English teacher, and a father who was a school principal.
    D.A.W.

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