Three Arabic Verbs for “to Think”—and How They Differ


root: ف-ع-ل / noun / plural: أَفْعال / definition: verb

Memory is an odd thing. People’s names, for one, seem to slip from my mind like sand through an hourglass. Yet, when the idea for this post came to mind, I could very clearly remember that I had noted down the differences between three Arabic verbs for “to think” in a second-year Arabic class, and that I had placed that sheet of notes near the beginning of a specific folder, on the left-hand side.

My memory served me well, because there it was: in that folder, on the left-hand side, eight pages in.

As an Arabic student, you’re likely to learn multiple Arabic words for which you are given the exact same translation. And sometimes those Arabic words will be completely (or partially) interchangeable, but that’s not always the case.

Let’s look at three Arabic verbs that are usually all translated, simply, as “to think”:

اِعْتَقَدَ / يَعْتَقِد

ظَنَّ / يَظُنّ

فَكَّرَ / يُفَكِّر

So how interchangeable (if at all) are these verbs?

Here’s a breakdown of each one:

اِعْتَقَدَ / يَعْتَقِد

root: ع-ق-د

form: VIII

precise meaning: to believe, hold a belief

from the same root, we have the word عُقْدة meaning “a knot“—so you can remember اعتقد as the type of “think” that refers to a belief that someone is tied to

it’s often followed by أَنَّ (“that”)


أَعْتَقِدُ أَنَّ النِّظامَ الجَديدَ غَيْرُ عادِل

I think that the new system is unjust

ظَنَّ / يَظُنّ

root: ظ-ن-ن

form: I

precise meaning: to believe/assume, hold an opinion

ظَنّ, a noun from the same root as the verb, means “opinion” or “belief”

and—in the same way as اعتقد—the verb ظنّ / يظنّ is also often followed by أَنَّ

seeing as both ظن and اعتقد refer to the type of “thinking” that is synonymous with “believing (that)”, you’ll find that they are used fairly interchangeably in Modern Standard Arabic

however, ظنّ / يظنّ can often further imply a suspicion or assumption


يَظُنّونَ أَنَّهم سَيَفوزونَ بِالمُباراة

they think that they will win the match

فَكَّرَ / يُفَكِّر

root: ف-ك-ر

form: II

precise meaning: to contemplate, to think about

from this root, we also get the noun فِكْرة (“idea”)—so think of the verb فكّر as “thinking about an idea

it’s followed by في which introduces the idea being thought about or considered

فكّر is not synonymous with اعتقد and ظنّ—because فكّر is a verb meaning “to think about“, while the other two mean “to think that


كانَ يُفَكِّرُ في شِراءِ سَيّارة

he was thinking about buying a car

In summary:

  • اعتقد and ظنّ have slight differences, but both refer to the type of “to think” that is synonymous with “to believe”
  • فكّر is not interchangeable with the two verbs above as it refers to the type of “to think” that is synonymous with “to contemplate”

I hope that was explained clearly. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below—and let me know if you like this type of post!

!إلى اللقاء

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