‘Pensar’ vs ‘creer’

‘Pensar’ means ‘to think’ and ‘creer’ means ‘to believe’, right?


Well, hold your horses … just as with the verbs ‘to think’ and ‘to believe’ in English, the difference between these two words is actually quite nuanced.

In short – ‘pensar’ generally translates as ‘to think’ and ‘creer’ as ‘to believe’, BUT there are contexts in which ‘creer’ is used more like the English verb ‘to think’ (eek!), especially when talking about how you “regard” someone/something.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!


BOTH ‘pensar’ and ‘creer’ can be used interchangeably in the following ways –

1. In the same sense as ‘to suppose’.

Pienso / Creo que sí = I think / believe so

2. In the same sense as ‘to regard’.

Pienso / Creo que es muy guapo. = I think he’s very handsome.

3. In the same sense as ‘to consider’.

Pienso / Creo que el asunto es de suma importancia. = I think the matter is of the utmost importance.

ONLYpensar’ is a synonym of ‘to think’ when used in the same sense as ‘to reflect’ and ‘to plan’  (i.e.,‘to intend to do something’) –

Estuve pensando acerca de lo sucedido. = I was reflecting on what happened.

Pienso irme del país antes de junio. = I plan to leave the country before June.

ONLYcreer’ is a synonym of ‘to believe’ when used in the same sense as ‘to have faith’ / ‘to trust’

Creo fervientemente en la bondad humana. = I strongly believe in human kindness.

¡Claro que creo en ti! = Of course I believe in you!

Pensar‘ vs ‘creer

A quick dive into the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language provides quite a list of formal definitions.

Some of them are pretty similar, but it’s very clear that ‘pensar’ is more related to thought processes, and ‘creer’ to preconceived ideas.

So, they function very similarly to the English verbs ‘to think’ and ‘to believe’ … but there are some important differences!

Differences between ‘pensar’ and ‘creer

We only use ‘creer’ to describe having deep “faith” or “trust” in someone or something (even if there´s no evidence to substantiate such a claim!).

So, you could say –

Creo en la existencia de Dios.

 I believe in the existence of God.

¡Mi familia cree en mí!

My family believes in me!

The same sentences would mean something entirely different using ‘pienso’ or ‘I think’

Pienso en la existencia de Dios.

I think about the existence of God.

¡Mi familia piensa en mí!

My family thinks about me!

On the other hand, when we talk about our “intention to do something”, or about “reflecting” on something, we MUST use ‘pensar’ or ‘to think’

Intention / Plan

¿Piensas viajar con tu novio?

Are you planning on traveling with your boyfriend?


Tienes la mirada perdida, ¿en qué piensas?

You have a lost look; what are you thinking about?

If we use ‘creer’ instead, the meaning changes –

¿Crees viajar con tu novio?

Do you believe you’ll be traveling with your boyfriend?

¿En qué crees?

What do you believe in?

As you can see the change is subtle in the first question, while the second question has an entirely different meaning!

Using ‘pensar’ and ‘creer’ interchangeably

As in English, we can use both ‘pensar’ and ‘creer’ when we “suppose” that something might be true –

Creo / Pienso que sí.

I believe / think so.

Creo / Pienso que podrías estar embarazada.

I believe / think you might be pregnant.

Both verbs can also be used interchangeably when talking about how you “regard” or “consider” something/someone –

¿Tú qué crees?

What do you THINK?

Norma – ¿Te gusta Fabián?

Gaby – Pienso / creo que es muy guapo…Pero no nos veo juntos.

Norma – Do you have a crush on Fabian?

Gaby – I THINK he’s very handsome … But I don’t see us together.

Andrés – ¿Cómo te pareció mi recital?

Bren – Pienso / creo que cantar es tu mero mole*.

Andrés – What did you think about my recital?

Bren – I THINK singing is your jam.

Erika’s note – In Mexico, people say mero mole to describe someone’s virtue, talent, or absolute passion!

Or when giving opinions –

Creo / Pienso que es necesario adoptar medidas ecológicas más estrictas.

I THINK that stricter environmental measures are needed.

¡Creo / Pienso que debería renunciar de una vez!

I THINK he should resign right away!

Note that ‘creer’ best translates to ‘to think’ in the above sentences. In the context of “regarding” and “giving opinions”, it’s often more similar to the English verb ‘to think’ than ‘to believe’.

Expressions with ‘pensar’ / ‘creer

Mal pensado

This expression is used to describe someone who’s ‘dirty-minded’ or who has their ‘head in the gutter’

¡Qué mal pensado eres! No todo tiene que ver con sexo, Andy.

Get your head out of the gutter! Not everything has to do with sex, Andy.


‘Creído’ is actually the past participle of ‘creer’ (as in ‘me ha creído’), but as a noun it’s used as a synonym of ‘conceited’ or ‘gullible’.

Esos chicos son súper creídos; no se dignan a hablarle a nadie.

Those kids are so smug; they don’t deign to talk to anyone.

¿Cómo puedes ser tan creído? ¿Qué no ves que te está mintiendo?

How can you be so gullible? Can’t you see he’s lying to you?

Final thoughts

So, there you have it! Using these two verbs may be intimidating at first, but the good news is that they behave similarly (for the most part at least!) to their English counterparts.

Ready for more Spanish synonyms? I suggest you take a look at the difference between escoger’ and ‘elegir next!

¡Hasta luego!

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