Latin has lots of verbs which can be translated as "think", including puto, opinor, arbitror, existimo, reor, censeo, cogito, and doubtless many others.

How might one get a handle on the semantic nuances that distinguish these verbs? Ideally, I'd like to be pointed to a discussion of all the most common of these verbs with usage examples, but answers focusing on specific verbs are also welcome.

  • 1
    Is there a particular context in which you want to use one of these verbs? Or are you looking for a separate resource (book, article, etc.) that analyzes them comprehensively? Or are you looking for a brief overview of the key differences between the major options? We can answer those questions. But this platform isn't particularly well-suited for providing a comprehensive analysis of all the possible usages of all the Latin verbs that could be translated "to think" in English. Apr 21, 2016 at 0:33
  • @Nathaniel: I'm not expecting anyone to come up with a comprehensive analysis, but a pointer to an existing one would be helpful, as would partial answers discussing some smaller subset of these verbs.
    – TKR
    Apr 21, 2016 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


Champneys/Rundall have a good run down of the words. They break them down into four categories:

Think = to have an opinion

  • puto.
  • existimo.
  • credo.
  • reor.
  • arbitror.
  • opinor.

= to have an opinion and express it—

  • censeo.

= to think over, reflect upon—

  • cogito.
  • reputo.
  • delibero.
  • considero.
  • meditor.
  • an animo agito.

= to think of doing something—

  • cogito.
  • in animo habeo.

I find the category between the first and second arbitrary, as arbitror, credo, and opinor all have been used for expressing opinions. The distinction between think = have an opinion and think = reflect upon is very important though. Notice the lack of overlap.

The latter category is made up of various shades of reflection, which should be easy to figure out by using a dictionary.

The former category, though, has important distinctions in itself. Credo, for example, has been used in Christian literature (and elsewhere) to indicate a strongly held belief. Meanwhile, arbitror originated from the idea of a judgment based on evidence (thus an arbiter is a judge of sorts, someone whose opinion is based on observation), and existimo has a value aspect to it. The verb for "I think this is enough water to add" would use the word arbitror while someone saying "I think this is worth one denarius" would use existimo. Both are opinions, but they're used differently.

Of course, over time, these often get mixed up and used as synonyms, but some of the original definition is felt.

Some other notes: reor is closer to existimo in needing calculations, which censeo originally had, too. Opinor is closer to arbitror, but seems along with puto and censeo to connote one's own personal opinion the best. Puto also had a "reckoning" sense, especially when used with ratio, however, it too is most often used purely of a personal opinion. Puto is probably closest to the thought equivalent of dico.


I'll offer a few thoughts gleaned from the entry for glauben in Georges: kleine deutsch-lateinisches Handwörterbuch and from Smith's Copious and Critical English-Latin Dictionary. (I'd quote and translate, but my German, while good enough to get a general sense of the text, is unequal to anything like a satisfying translation.)

Credo is closest to "I believe" or "I dare say"; it's often used ironically.
Opinor is closest to "I suppose."
Arbitror is closest to "I judge," or, since that's not really something we say much in English these days, to "I think" with a sense of judging based on available evidence, without necessarily knowing all of the facts.
Existimo is closest to "I value," as in "I judge something to be of great/little value."
Puto is closest to "I think"; it's often used parenthetically.
Reor belongs to a very elevated register.


(This is only a partial answer so far.)

Joseph Denooz (Denooz 2010) gives the following frequency data for the verbs mentioned in your question.

enter image description here

  • Is there a digital version of this text, or a version available online? There are many categories of words for which I'd find such a table very helpful. May 23, 2016 at 14:29
  • @JoelDerfner I don't really know. I've never seen it online but who knows?
    – Alex B.
    May 26, 2016 at 4:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.