learning Swedish For Members

How to think in Swedish: tänka, tro or tycka?

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
How to think in Swedish: tänka, tro or tycka?
A quote above the entrance to the Grand Auditorium of the University Main Building in Uppsala. It says "To think freely is great, but to think rightly is greater". Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

Swedish has at least three different ways of expressing the English word think: tänka, tro and tycka. Learning when to use each of these words correctly is a sure-fire way to sound like a true Swede.


Despite the fact that these words are all translated to "think" in English, choosing the wrong verb in Swedish can change the meaning of what you're trying to say. 

As a general rule, you should use tänka when talking about the act of thinking, tro when talking about a belief you hold, and tycka when you're talking about a personal opinion. That might seem confusing, so let's go into a bit more detail below.


The act of thinking

Tänka is the most literal of these three verbs. It describes the act of thinking, such as in sentences like jag tänker på dig ("I'm thinking of you") or kan du hålla tyst, jag försöker tänka! ("Can you be quiet, I'm trying to think!")

A future plan

Tänka can also describe something you want to do, as in "I'm thinking of doing [something]" or "I'm considering doing [something]". Vi tänker gifta oss ("We're thinking of getting married"), or jag tänker lära mig svenska ("I'm thinking of learning Swedish").


I'd quite like...

Another way of using the word tänka is to say that an idea appeals to you or that you'd quite like to do something – like in the phrase jag hade kunnat tänka mig [något] (literally "I had could think me [something]"). 

If, for example, you were discussing with your partner what you should order for dinner on a Friday night, you might say jag hade kunnat tänka mig pizza (best translated as "pizza could be nice" or "I'd quite like pizza"), which is more like a suggestion compared to jag vill äta pizza ("I want to eat pizza").

I can imagine...

Finally, tänka can also mean "imagine". This can be seen in the following example:

"Jag var jättetrött efter jobbet i går, jag hade jobbat 14 timmar utan paus!" "Oj! Ja, det kan jag tänka mig!"

("I was really tired after work yesterday, I'd worked for 14 hours without a break!" "Oh wow! Yeah, I can imagine!")


Tycka and tro

These two verbs are closer in meaning and slightly harder to explain than with the word tänka. The best way to distinguish tycka and tro is to be more specific when translating them in to English. Although "think" can be used as an umbrella term for both of these concepts, the differences start to become clearer if you use more specialised verbs when translating them instead.

An opinion, usually based on experience

Tycka has the same meaning as the English words "deem", "regard" and "consider", which are all used when expressing an opinion about something.

To use tycka, you would say jag tycker att ("I think that") followed by your opinion. In spoken Swedish, the att here is often left out. Jag tycker (att) du är snäll ("I think you're nice") and jag tycker (att) det är kallt (I think it's cold) are two examples.

A belief or speculation

Tro, on the other hand, can be translated as "believe", which can be used when speculating about something or expressing a belief, such as jag tror på Gud ("I believe in God") or jag tror det kommer regna imorgon ("I think it will rain tomorrow").

Here's an example to illustrate the difference between saying tycka or tro:

Jag tycker (att) det är en bra restaurang would mean "I think that's a good restaurant", in the sense of "I consider that to be a good restaurant". You may have eaten at the restaurant before and you can recommend it based on the food that you ate.

Jag tror det är en bra restaurang would also mean "I think that's a good restaurant", but in the sense of "I believe that's a good restaurant". Maybe a friend has told you that they had a nice meal there, but you've not been there yourself so you can't say for certain. 


Tycker om

You may also have come across the phrase tycka om, which has a slightly different meaning than tyckaTycka always requires some sort of elaboration – it should be followed by a statement about what your opinion is – whereas tycka om simply means that you like something.

Jag tycker (att) han är snäll, jag tycker (att) choklad smakar gott

("I think (that) he is nice", "I think (that) chocolate tastes good")

Jag tycker om honom, jag tycker om choklad

("I like him", "I like chocolate")

You can also use the word gilla to express liking something. Jag gillar honom, jag gillar choklad ("I like him", "I like chocolate")

So, how do I think in Swedish?

Essentially, you should use tänka when describing actual thoughts in your head, tycka when expressing an opinion or a recommendation based on something you've experienced, and tro when expressing a belief or a recommendation based on something you've heard or read from another source.

If you're not sure whether to use tycka or tro in a specific situation, try swapping out the word "think" with "consider" or "believe", and see if that helps.

Are there any other aspects of Swedish grammar you find confusing or difficult which you'd like us to cover? Let us know in the comments below!


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Beth Jones 2024/02/29 17:15
I learned Swedish by ear so it’s interesting to see if I’m using words correctly, and I am! Tack så mycket!

See Also