For example, how would you say "I thought you were in Japan"?

How about any other samples on how to use omou in past tense?

  • 2
    Have you learned how to form the past tense of verbs?
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 10, 2015 at 5:32

4 Answers 4


I'll assume that you aren't literally asking how to conjugate 「思う」 to past tense (which simply put, is just 「思った」), but instead that you are actually asking "how to use it in past tense".

What makes this complicated is that 「〜と思う」 doesn't mean "to think ~" (as in, the state of holding some belief). Instead, it means something more like "to have the thought ~" (as in, the instantaneous occurrence).

The state of "to think ~" then becomes 「〜と思っている」.

Using your example sentence "I thought you were in Japan", there are a lot of translations. Let us consider these two:



Trying to explain the difference using English glosses probably will be a futile exercise, but with the prior explanation in mind, this difference might make sense:

  • The first (using 「思った」), expresses a degree of surprise or disbelief (because 「思った」 by itself means that you "just had the thought", and that notion of immediacy/recency indicates your surprise/disbelief).

  • The second (using 「思っていた」) is neutral.

So, depending on the context, you may choose the first or the second.

For example, if you live in America and someone you thought was in Japan walks in the door, you could say something like

"Huh?! I thought you were in Japan!".

On the other hand, if you're talking about what you thought in the far past, where the surprise is no longer relevant, you would say something like

"When I called you yesterday, I thought you were in Japan."

Of course, "I thought you were in Japan." can be used in yet even more ways in English, for example, "Man, I thought you were in Japan.", in which case you'd say something like 「日本にいると思っていたのにな…」. I guess I would classify this usage nuance as "expressing inconvenience".

Anyways, to save you from an even longer answer, let me conclude that if you are trying to pay attention to nuance, then English and Japanese tend to be pretty drastically different and translating between them can be pretty hard for that reason. Hopefully this answer let's you know about the things you might need to worry about with regards to 「思う」 in particular, at least.

  • You mean if the sentence appears to be surprised "いた" is needed in the end?
    – yyuki
    Feb 10, 2015 at 19:29
  • 1
    @yyuki No, other way around. Feb 10, 2015 at 19:31

Past tense of omou is omoimashita (formal ) or omotta (non formal). あなたは日本にいると思いました。 I thought you were in Japan.

there are a lot of verb conjugation websites out there I think it would be easier if you know the the basic of Japanese verb conjugation. Try learning the Te- form it would make you understand how easy it is to conjugate verbs.

  • でも、「思う」に関し、特別分け方があります。質問者は多分それについて問います。
    – virmaior
    Feb 11, 2015 at 3:47

Nihon ni iru to omotteta noni.

  • 2
    You use a contraction (omotte ita → omotteta) and an intermediate level conjunction at the end of the sentence. I think that without proper explanation this answer may confuse the OP.
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 10, 2015 at 5:41
  • 3
    (Feel free to answer in Japanese. Somebody will probably be able to translate your answer into English.)
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 10, 2015 at 5:43
  • 1
    You really should expand though, since this is definitely the right answer, unlike the other answers. It's unfortunate that it's somewhat unclear what level the OP is at. Feb 10, 2015 at 5:59
  • 1
    I tried to explain this in my answer. If this answer gets expanded, I will gladly vote it up and remove my edits in order to give the credit to the rightful author.
    – Urukann
    Feb 10, 2015 at 9:08

Well, I guess the past tense of 思{おも}う is 思った, thus "I thought" can be directly translated to "思った".

According to tatoeba (Not the best example around, but still) :

初{はじ}めは病気{びょうき}だと思った。 それは本当{ほんとう}だと思った。

Are valid sentences and mean:

  • At first, I thought he was sick.
  • I thought it was true.

So 思った covers your use case :


To expand on the other answer : 思ってた would be akin to a progressive form, it is a Verb-て+いる、but contracted. However, in this case the meaning is rather one of "state-of-being", i.e. "思ってた" is closer in meaning to "I was in the state of thinking" that "I thought". It is best to use it in your case, because (I think) it puts more emphasis on the fact that you have changed your mind since then. Depending on your intention, you can then add endings to your verb, a.k.a のに. However, I am unsure to its sense.

By looking at this link and this question it appears that のに is similar to "although" or "even though" and the main sentence is often dropped. In our case I guess のに would be expanded and translated to :

Even though I thought you were in japan, (you are here)

  • 思っている/思っていた aren't progressive, because 思う is not a 継続動詞. Feb 10, 2015 at 8:07
  • You mean that 思っている is a "state-of-being" ? If yes, sorry I wrote progressive as a reference to the form, that I usually associate with "-ing"
    – Urukann
    Feb 10, 2015 at 8:49

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