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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

8 Answers 8

up vote 5 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
"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
@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 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
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
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

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

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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 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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This is the total opposite of what everyone else has suggested and hardly makes sense. So using these definitions you'd say, "I used to believe gravity exists as a force of nature, but after discovering the Higgs boson I don't just believe it exists, I think it exists." – Evan Carroll Oct 14 at 16:31

Rather than just pointing out degrees, let's talk about what you can hold a conviction in. These terms also connote degrees.

  • You can think a conjecture is true.
  • You can believe in a theory, holding it to be true.

One of them requires some foundation even if only subjective from the perspective of the speaker. While the other includes possibilities that may be clearly absurd.

  • I think these lottery numbers will be lucky.

    Raises no questions to me.

  • I believe these lottery numbers will be lucky.

    Makes me wonder what you know about the method of number selection at the lottery.

That's not to say every belief is reasonable. Most are certainly not reasonable, but they're still not random.

  • I'm a Christian: I believe the world was created in 7 days.

    You're clearly nuts. But, I understand why you believe that. It's in your cannon.

As for reckon it has two meanings.

  1. Meaning to calculate. This meaning is dead in the United States.
  2. A southern regionalism for belief. But, more often used sarcastically or pejoratively to mock southerners.

I'd stay stay away from reckon entirely. Unless you're planning a comedy skit.

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