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I am writing a short description of a social experiement. The objective is to get a better idea of the way people think. I have some troubles to understand the difference between those two phrases:

  1. To encounter people and better understand their way of thinking
  2. To encounter people and better understand the way they think

Is there any difference in meaning between those two phrases? If so, could you please tell me what their are?

Thanks a lot for your help!

  • The way they think is a completely different construction from the way to think. And both are different from their way of thinking. So what, exactly, is your question? Do you want a structural analysis, a semantic analysis, or a pragmatic analysis? And of which constructions? – John Lawler in exile Dec 12 '14 at 15:22
  • Thanks a lot for your comment @JohnLawlerinexile! I am looking for a semantic analysis between "way of thinking" and "way they think" – MagTun Dec 12 '14 at 15:28
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Way of thinking typically refers to someone's perspective or viewpoint, e.g., "It's a good plan, by my way of thinking."

The way they think uses the definition of way that means "how someone does something," so the phrase would refer to the method or practice that people use to think. For example, the way one person thinks might be by carefully analyzing the facts, while the way another person thinks might be to jump to conclusions.

  • Sorry, but I still don't get the difference. It's maybe because I am French and we don't have this disctinction. According to you link "way of thinking" can also be use to describe "a particular way of thinking about or dealing with something" which seems to me to correspond to your explanation of "the way they think". Which one would best describe the different way people from different culture think? Thanks for your help! – MagTun Dec 12 '14 at 16:02
  • It depends. If you're talking about, say, what French people in general think about a certain topic, way of thinking would be best because you're talking about French people's perspective or viewpoint on the matter. If you're describing something like how people from Culture X tend to be more detail-oriented in their thinking while people from Culture Y tend to take a more holistic approach, then you would use the way they think because you're talking about the method that they use to think. – Nicole Dec 12 '14 at 16:15
  • If I get it in the right way "way of thinking" is close to "opinion" and "the way they think" is could be related to "a method of thinking". Is that right? – MagTun Dec 12 '14 at 16:18
  • Why do you assume there has to be a meaning difference? To most English speakers, the two phrases are just different ways to say the same thing. When this happens (as it does with any option in English, of which there are millions), somebody is bound to say that they mean different things to them. Which is true. The problem is that different people find different "meanings", and there is no agreement. As perhaps you are alresdy finding out. As to which one to use, use the one you prefer, for whatever reasons you prefer. That's what everybody else does. – John Lawler in exile Dec 13 '14 at 17:05

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