I've read from many grammar books that when we are talking about a third people thinking about something, we must use 思っている, and it means "think" instead of "be thinking". For example:

  • スミスさんは日本の物価は高いと思っている is correct
  • スミスさんは日本の物価は高いと思う   is considered incorrect

I've tried to find the reason, however, any documents I could find states only the rule without explanation. I really wish to know if there are any grammatical or cultural reasons for this.

  • 4
    Possibly of use: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/13603/3097 Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 11:37
  • If スミスさんは日本の物価は高いと思う makes any sense, it means "(I predict) Someday, Smith will find that things are expensive in Japan".
    – user4092
    Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 12:34
  • You are correct about third-person subject sentences, but second-person subjects also take the ている-form.
    – user4032
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 12:51

2 Answers 2


There are a few verbs that do this. It's not just 思う but also 考える.

I tried coming up with an English parallel but after a few goes decided that they don't work. The source difference as I see it is that the Japanese language has a stricter account of philosophy of mind that works from the idea that we don't have access to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Thus, in Japanese, Verbs about people's thought processes and other things that are somewhat opaque to observes work a little differently than things that are openly apparent (e.g. kicking a ball).

It's a little Wittgenstinian, but there's really a difference in meanings between:

I feel sad

I think we should have no nuclear weapons


He feels sad

He thinks we should have no nuclear weapons

In the former case, the normal interpretation with mental verbs is that you cannot be wrong as you are expressing with the sentence your thoughts. In the latter, what we mean is that someone appears to have that thought, feeling, or emotion, because we don't have direct access to these things.

Why does this block 思う but not 思っている. I think Darius's example to a near-duplicate is great on that point. The instant duration of the simple verb form is different than the ~ている form which expresses of a duration. Also, his answer explains why the past tenses are different.

With your example pair, we can say both in English. But the meaning of the word "thinks" if we render your sentence in English means that Smith makes the judgment that Japan has high prices.

I found this explanation:

「と思う」は,もっぱら発話時における話者自身の命題に対する蓋然的判断を表す。したがって,「と思う」 が文末に現れている文は主語が一人称に限られる。なお,「思っている」のようなテイル形や「思っ た/て いる らしい」のようにタ形やテイル形にムードが後接している場合は,他者の思考内容を表すことも可能 となるため,人称制限が無くなる。この場合の「思っている」などは本動詞的に用いられ,文全体は一般的 な引用構文となる。


The relevant point is that the dictionary form indicates the speaker's view at the 発話時 (moment of utterance). Assuming you don't have access to other people's thoughts instantly, you need to use a stative construction to express what is inside their heads and inaccessible.

  • 4
    "Hiroko is thinking to go abroad" is pretty marginal for me. Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 11:45
  • @DariusJahandarie upvoting that and trying to rectify. Been in Japan too long ... losing grasp on my own native language of English.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 13:22
  • 1
    Not only does "Hiroko is thinking about going abroad" sound perfectly natural to me, I actually use such a construction more often than "has been thinking". The only time I would ever really use the latter over the former is to emphasize the time spent "thinking". And in that case, I would probably add "for a while" to further emphasize the timeframe. Thus, "Hiroko has been thinking about going abroad for a while." Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 0:21
  • @alexhatesmil - but the errant construction was "Hiroko is thinking to go abroad". I agree that the about construction is natural... perhaps more natural than the other one. But the illustrative point is that verb's about people's cognitive states function differently than regular action verbs.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 0:44
  • @virmaior Ah, true. Point taken. Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 0:57
と思っている talks about the current state of things: "is thinking"
と思う talks about what will happen or what always happens.


I am eating.
I eat (habitually).
I will eat.

Does that help show why it sounds weird to use 思う in this kind of situation?

  • FYI, this is downvoted because it fails to explain why sentences like 私は彼がいいやつだと思う are totally fine. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 3:20
  • I though it was self evident that it sounded strange to talk about the future thoughts of someone else; guess not. I'll add more detail in the future I guess.
    – Brandon
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 4:11
  • 3
    That's not what that sentence means -- the only reasonable translation is into present tense: "I think he's a good guy." Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 6:05

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