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These are the three most common ways to say "I think." (At least, I believe so. I mean, I think so. Um...)

Are there any subtle differences between them?
Are there situations where one of the three is more suitable than the others?
Can you say you hear a particular form all the time in the streets, while the other two are much less common?

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What tags do you want? Put them in a comment, and someone else can add them for you. –  Vincent McNabb Aug 16 '10 at 23:43
    
I wanted these ones :p –  GSerg Aug 17 '10 at 11:27
    
You should look for the debates around the word believe in the atheosphere. –  TRiG Oct 27 '10 at 23:38
    
Reviving the old thread here but "I reckon" is VERY common in Australian English. –  user10724 Jul 7 '11 at 16:51

7 Answers 7

up vote 3 down vote accepted

"I think" is a statement of cursory conclusion, while "I believe" indicates a more deeply considered and committed position. Note that someone may say "I think" when they actually mean "I believe", simply because it might be received as less confrontational. "I reckon" carries an ever lower level of assertion than "I think", (or perhaps an even higher level of conciliation).

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Believing is more committed than just thinking, but I think "I believe" isn't usually more assertive/committed. Sometimes I think it's even used to be a little less assertive (or at least more polite/indirect) than "I think". –  MGOwen Sep 20 '10 at 5:25
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"I reckon" is typically associated with southern and rural American English. It is not usually heard in northern, urban areas. –  oosterwal Jan 31 '11 at 21:35
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@oosterwal It's also very common in AuE (and it may be indicative more more confidence than "I think," there). –  user867 Oct 24 '13 at 3:01

I have always used "I reckon" to mean, "I have applied a process of thought and come to this conclusion". "I think" is a statement of my assumptions. "I believe" is generally something I cannot prove or defend, specifically referring to my "beliefs" in a religious or spiritual context.

For some perspective, I am a native speaker from the Southern United States.

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As an example...

When a sheriff in the deep south says, "I reckon I'm takin' you to jail.", it means he's definitely taking you to jail. There is no question in that sheriff's mind. He doesn't think or believe, he knows.

;~)

And an up vote for Anthony.

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I'd consider both "I believe" and "I think" to reflect roughly equivalent levels of (limited) confidence.

"I reckon" is significantly lower-confidence- more akin to "I'd guess" than than it is to the other two.

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I believe "I reckon" is more commonly used in British English. I think that in American English, it's considered to be colloquial.

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To me, "I reckon" is distinctively American, and much less common in British usage. –  Colin Fine Aug 17 '10 at 16:24
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As an American, I'd be tempted to say "I reckon" is rather rustic-sounding. That said, I'm sure I've used it, and I often say "by that reckoning..." or something along those lines. –  kitukwfyer Aug 17 '10 at 22:28
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I reckon the phrase is quite common in Australian usage (at least my Australian gf used to use it commonly), whereas in America it may sound somewhat "hillbilly". :) –  Jonik Aug 22 '10 at 17:35

All three are essentially interchangeable, but many think I believe reflects uncertainty on the part of the speaker.

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I believe (heh-heh) that "I believe" acknowledges the possibility of error, and the shortage of evidence, more explicitly than "I think" does. "I reckon" originally meant "I calculate" and so carries a far stronger promise of accuracy. If you begin a sentence with "I reckon", you better be right.

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