The difference between “denken” und “nachdenken”

The difference between “denken” und “nachdenken”

Many German students struggle when it comes to the right usage of the verbs “denken” and “nachdenken”. In this article, I will explain the meaning of each verb and how you should use them properly!

The reason why it seems so hard for many German learners to differentiate between these two verbs is most likely a wrong translation from English or their first language into German. In English, for instance, we can say: “I think that I will have time tomorrow.” or “I think of you.” using the same verb as in “I think about a solution for the problem.” As you can already see, the usage of the English verb “to think” is very broad. Contrary to this, the German language knows the two verbs “denken” and “nachdenken”. They share the job, the English “to think” does. As for that reason, I will explain to you the usage of “denken” and “nachdenken”.

The meaning of “denken”

The German verb “denken” means “to think” in the sense that in the first place, it represents the ability to think. It is a regular verb, and therefore, there is nothing special to consider when conjugating it for each personal pronoun.


Conjugation of “denken”

ich denke

du denkst

er/sie/es denkt

wir denken

ihr denkt

sie denken


Usage of “denken”

You can use “denken” in the following two cases.

  1. “I think (that/the) …” = Ich denke, dass, e.g.: “Ich denke, dass ich Freitag Zeit habe” / “Er denkt, der Mann kauft die Ananas.”
  2. Thinking of sb./sth … = Ich denke an (here this verb comes with the fixed preposition “an”), e.g.: “Ich denke an dich.”, “Die Frau denkt an die E-Mail von gestern”


The meaning of “nachdenken”

In contrast to “denken”, the German verb “nachdenken” stands for the English “to think about”. By using “nachdenken”, one can express that you not only can think (denken), but you go even further and think about a topic or person. “Nachdenken” is a regular verb as well, but it is a separable verb, and therefore, the “nach” needs a special treatment. Besides, the preposition “über” always follows “nachdenken”. When you learn this by heart, your life will become more comfortable as you will automatically know how to use this verb.


Conjugation of “nachdenken”

ich denke (über das Problem) nach

du denkst (über den Stau auf der Straße) nach

er/sie/es denkt (über das Geburtstagsgeschenk) nach

wir denken (über das Verkehrsschild) nach

ihr denkt (über die Ferien) nach

sie denken (über die Geldsorgen) nach

Usage of “nachdenken”

As you have already seen, “nachdenken” is the exact translation of “to think about”. Since it is a separable verb, one uses it as follows in the 4 most critical German tenses:

  1. “nachdenken” in Futur 1: Ich werde über das Problem nachdenken.
  2. “nachdenken” in Präsents: Ich denke über das Problem nach.
  3. “nachdenken” in Präteritum: Ich dachte über das Problem nach.
  4. “nachdenken” in Perfekt: Ich habe über das Problem nachgedacht.


Difference “denken” and “nachdenken”

The next time, you would like to use the English verb “to think” and you are unsure about what to choose, ask yourself: “Do I mean think about?”. If the answer is “yes”, you will select “nachdenken”. In any other case, use “denken”.

I hope that I could shed some light on this problem.


Bis bald!





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