The words 思い付く and 思い浮かぶ both mean something along the lines of "to come to mind". But I'm not actually sure about the details of when to use one versus the other. Yet, at the same time, they don't feel interchangeable, either.

I get the feeling that the difference has something to do with volition... like, 思い付く is when you are trying to think of something, and 思い浮かぶ is when something just naturally occurs to you. On the other hand, 浮かぶ is often used when referring to trying to think of ideas (e.g. いいアイデアが思い浮かばない).

So, what is the actual difference between these words? When should I use 思い付く and when should I use 思い浮かぶ?


思{おも}い付{つ}く and 思{おも}い浮{う}かぶ are compound verbs (複合動詞{ふくごうどうし}) - [思{おも}う + 付{つ}く] and [思{おも}う + 浮{う}かぶ].

思{おも}う implies the action that the doer works his/her mind subjectively and emotionally to image/determine/worry/hope/expect/like or love.

日本{にほん}の将来{しょうらい}を思{おも}う。"I think of the future of Japan."

問題{もんだい}ないと思{おも}う。"There should be no problem."

風邪{かぜ}を引{ひ}いたんじゃないかと思{おも}う。"I might/must be a cold."

子{こ}を思{おも}う親心{おやごころ}。"Parental tenderness for children"

彼{かれ}には他{ほか}に思{おも}う人{ひと}がいる。"He has someone in his mind/likes someone else."

付く indicates that someone or something (stain, color, decoration, condition/provision, power, price, name, smell and so on) attaches to the object. [...が] 思{おも}い付{つ}く is used when some (beneficial or good) idea for the doer comes up in his/her mind, especially without a deep consideration. To 思{おも}い付{つ}く something is like the pop sound of the cork stopper when you open the champagne bottle.

いいアイデアが思{おも}い付{つ}いた。"I came up with an idea."

解決策{かいけつさく}が思{おも}い付{つ}かない。"I can't come up with any solution."

思{おも}いつくままに語{かた}る。"I talk things in mind without thinking."

浮{う}かぶ indicates that someone or something rises up gradually or floats somewhere unstable like in the air or on the water. [...が] 思{おも}い浮{う}かぶ is used when the doer comes up with an idea or a certain image/memory/impression from an event. This idea/image/memory/impression can be blurry at first and become clear gradually as you bring the camera into focus on the object.

いいアイデアが思{おも}い浮{う}かんだ。"I came up with an idea (after considering a bit)."

この曲{きょく}を聞{き}いていると、ゴッドファーザーのシーンが思{おも}い浮{う}かぶ。"I can visualize the scene from the God Father while listening to this song."

When 思{おも}い浮{う}かぶ is used in the same situation as 思{おも}い付{つ}く, it gives the impression that you have a little bit of thought before coming up with an idea.

  • 2
    "思い付く is like the pop sound of the cork." I love that image. It makes a lot of sense. 浮かぶ implies floating (emerging gradually) whereas 付く implies popping/sticking into the mind. – DaniG2k Nov 6 '14 at 12:51

思い付く is used to when you deliberately try to come up with something, and succeeded. You can think of it as going through some kind of algorithmic steps to reach the idea.

思い浮かぶ can be still used in the same situation , but it emphasizes the cases where ideas naturally came into your mind. It's more like getting a virtual light bulb above your head.

But these can be probably used interchangeably and I don't think I would differentiate the two so much.

  • 1
    Aside from the above sense, 思い浮かぶ is also often used in the sense of something reminding you of something. In this sense, 思い浮かぶ involves the memory of a past experience being (unintentionally) triggered by something in the present. This in contrast to 思い付く, which never has direct connotations of the past being recalled. – Will Nov 5 '14 at 13:25

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