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How to think in Danish: tænke, tro or synes?

The Local Denmark
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How to think in Danish: tænke, tro or synes?
You think it's a nice restaurant, but is this your opinion or your belief? File photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

Danish has at least three different ways of expressing the English word "think": tænke, tro and synes. Learning when to use each of these words correctly is a good way to sound like a true Dane and to make sure your point gets across.

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Despite the fact that tænke, tro and synes words can all be translated to “think” in English, choosing the wrong verb in Danish can change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. 

As a general rule, you should use tænke when talking about the act of thinking, tro when talking about a belief you hold, and synes when you’re talking about a personal opinion. That might seem confusing, so let’s go into a bit more detail below.

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Tænke

The act of thinking

Tænke is the most literal of these three verbs. It describes the act of thinking, such as in sentences like jeg tænker på dig (“I’m thinking of you”) or kan du være stile, jeg prøver at tænke! (“Can you be quiet, I’m trying to think!”).

If someone seems lost in thought, you can ask hvad tænker du på? (“what are you thinking of?). In a different context, the same sentence can be reproachful: Du glemte at sætte mælken i køleskabet og nu er den blevet dårlig. Hvad tænker du på! (“You forgot to put the milk back in the fridge and now it’s gone off. What were you thinking!”)

I’d quite like…

Another way of using the word tænke is to say that an idea appeals to you or that you’d quite like to do something – like in the phrase jeg kunne godt tænke mig et stykke kage (literally “I could think me a piece of cake”, actually “I would like a piece of cake”).

If, for example, you were discussing with your partner what you should order for dinner on a Friday night, you might say jeg kunne godt tænke mig sushi, which is more like a suggestion compared to jeg skal have sushi (“I want sushi”).

I was wondering

Tænke can also be used to make a tentative or polite suggestion if you use the past tense: Jeg tænkte på, om du havde lyst til at ses til et glas vin på fredag? (“I was wondering if you might like to meet for a glass of wine on Friday?).

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Synes and tro

These two verbs are closer in meaning and slightly harder to explain than with the word tænke. The best way to distinguish synes and tro is to be more specific when translating them in to English. Although “think” can be used as an umbrella term for both of these concepts, the differences start to become clearer if you use more specialised verbs when translating them instead.

An opinion, usually based on experience

Synes has the same meaning as the English words “deem”, “regard” and “consider”, which are all used when expressing an opinion about something.

To use synes, you would say jeg synes, at (“I think that”) followed by your opinion. In spoken Danish, the at is often left out. Jeg synes, (at) du er sød (“I think you’re nice”) and jeg synes, (at) her er koldt (I think it’s cold here) are two examples.

A belief or speculation

Tro, on the other hand, can be translated as “believe”, which can be used when speculating about something or expressing a belief, such as jeg tror på Gud (“I believe in God”) or jeg tror, det bliver regnvejr I morgen (“I think it will rain tomorrow”).

Here’s an example to illustrate the difference between saying synes or tro:

Jeg synes, det er en god restaurant would mean “I think it’s a good restaurant”, in the sense of “I consider that to be a good restaurant”. You may have eaten at the restaurant before and you can recommend it based on the food that you ate.

Jeg tror, det er en god restaurant would also mean “I think it’s a good restaurant”, but in the sense of “I believe that’s a good restaurant”. Maybe a friend has told you that they had a nice meal there, but you’ve not been there yourself so you can’t say for certain. 

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Synes om

You may also have come across the phrase synes om, which has a slightly different meaning than synesSynes always requires some sort of elaboration – it should be followed by a statement about what your opinion is – whereas synes om simply means that you like something.

Jeg synes, (at) han er sød, jeg synes, (at) chokolade smager godt

(“I think (that) he is nice”, “I think (that) chocolate tastes good”)

Jeg synes om ham, jeg synes om chokolade

(“I like him”, “I like chocolate”)

So, how do I think in Danish?

Essentially, you should use tænke when describing actual thoughts in your head, synes when expressing an opinion or a recommendation based on something you’ve experienced, and tro when expressing a belief, or a recommendation based on something you’ve heard or read from another source.

If you’re not sure whether to use synes or tro in a specific situation, try swapping out the word “think” with “consider” or “believe”, and see if that helps.

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