In my native language, believing in something means accepting it as true without a proof:

  • For example, asking whether you believe in God is correct, as it doesn't imply said God actually exists.
  • Or, you ask someone for money and they're reluctant because they think there's some risk of not getting it back, but you say "believe me, it's all good". i.e., asking for blind trust without actually providing any guarantee.

I've been submerged in the English language for about 20 years now, and I keep noticing that it seems that's not how the word "believe" is sometimes used in English.

For example, right now I'm watching this movie and one person asks another "do you believe in evolution?" A scientific theory, and the theory of evolution in particular, is not a matter of belief, it either works or it doesn't (just keeping it simple for the sake of this question), so the question is oxymoronic.

Another example I keep noticing is, in a lot of movies[,] there's some generic small talk, and people would often say, "every person believes in something..." or "choose what you believe in" and so on. It doesn't make any sense for them to mean "choose what you want to blindly trust in", does it?

So is this word by any chance used to actually mean that you trust someone or something because you actually know it's true? Not blindly believe, but have evidence that it's true?

Like, "I believe in my daughter in school", because I know she actually studies well, not because I think she does without any proof of it being true.


Another example of confusing "believe" usage is

"It's going to rain soon."

"I believe he's right, let's get umbrellas."

In this case, it looks like "believe" is literally meant as "think", i.e. "I think he's right, ...", not implying blind trust. Is that correct?

  • In your native language, must you ask "do you believe that God exists" instead of "do you believe in God"? Must you ask "do you believe that evolution works"? Can you ask "do you believe in gravity"? – AmI Sep 16 '18 at 0:40
  • You have to distinguish between believe, which requires a proposition as an object, and believe in, which requires some religious or mythological concept as an object. They're very different in meaning and use. – John Lawler Sep 16 '18 at 0:55
  • @AmI > must you ask "do you believe that God exists" No. > Must you ask "do you believe that evolution works"? You can, but it would be oxymoronic. Like asking, "do you believe that 2+2 equals 4?". Because it's not a matter of belief. You can ask "do you think that 2+2 equals 4?" and that will be correct. So yeah, I feel like in English "believe" is for some reason misused when people actually want to say "think". – Yuri Geinish Sep 16 '18 at 0:57
  • Thank you -- the answer will therefore depend on the semantic difference between English 'think' and 'believe'. – AmI Sep 16 '18 at 1:01
  • 2
    Please check the meanings and examples of believe in the Oxford Dictionary online. – Arm the good guys in America Sep 16 '18 at 6:00

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