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I am puzzled by the Russian phrase "я считаю, что," which is used very frequently. I know that an approximate translation is "I think that," but I strongly feel that there is some special idea, concept, or connotation behind the original phrase and that the translation "I think that" does not really grasp it.

I am especially interested to learn the difference between "я считаю, что" and "я думаю, что," since the latter phrase is the literal Russian translation of "I think that." I vaguely recall a teacher of mine explaining the difference between the following two phrases:

Я думаю, что он потратил много денег.

Я считаю, что он потратил много денег.

My recollection may be wrong, but is that the first sentence is a guess about how much money the person spent, and that the second sentence is rather a comment on an already known amount of spent money.

Wiktionary defines "считать" as "иметь мнение" ("to have an opinion"), but I am highly unsure whether this definition is precise. For instance, I remember the following phrase from a dialogue I had to learn:

Я считаю, что ты мне не подходишь.

In that dialogue this phrase is said by a girl to a guy, and the context is a date. At least in that dialogue, the sentence looked like a firm final decision rather than an opinion.

I am very curious how the native Russian speakers can explain "я считаю, что."

My question is this: What explanation of "я считаю, что" could you give to help me fully understand this phrase both consciously and on the emotional level?

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    If a girl says to a guy after a date: "In my opinion, you are not the right one for me", this sounds rather like a final decision.
    – Alexander
    Jun 18 '19 at 20:59
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    Interestingly, a similar, if not the same, distinction is made between "find (that) vs think (that)" in English and "trouver (que) vs penser (que)" in French. Practically no sense of doubt in one's mind is perceived in "find / trouver", while "think / penser" evokes the sense of incertitude. Jun 18 '19 at 22:59
  • @Con-gras-tue-les-chiens : : Interestingly, Google Translator provides the following translation of "я считаю что": "I consider that." The translation is marked there as verified.
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 19 '19 at 14:27
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In her book "Русская семантика в типологической перспективе". Глава II "Русская семантика в лексикографическом аспекте", 7. Глагол считать Анна Зализняк dedicated several pages to the verb считать in this particular opinion sense of it.

Пересказывать содержание здесь, пожалуй, бессмысленно. Изложить его по-английски - слишком тяжёлый труд для меня. С другой стороны, "ответ" должен содержать хоть какой-то ответ, поэтому в двух словах: думать - обозначает мнение-предположение, в то время как считать - обозначает мнение-оценку.

I do recommend to read the whole section under the link above as it covers the topic in great detail (or, better, read the whole book) )

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  • прекрасный ответ!
    – shabunc
    Jun 19 '19 at 18:26
  • :) Анна А. Зализняк все-таки...
    – tum_
    Jun 19 '19 at 18:51
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The Wiktionary explanation is correct albeit not clear enough.

The difference is this

Я думаю, что он потратил много денег. - I think he's spent a lot of money (but i'm not sure if he has OR don't really know how much)

Я считаю, что он потратил много денег. - In my opinion/view || I reckon that he's spent a lot of money (I know how much he's spent and in my opinion that's a lot)

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    My impression is that "считаю" is rather a very firm opinion or maybe even a decision. Is my impression correct, or is "считаю" just an opinion?
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 18 '19 at 18:56
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    @Mitsuko yes, it can connote a strong opinion with an implication of being in opposition to other opinions when the subject is tonally stressed Jun 18 '19 at 18:58
  • Is it accurate to interpret "я считаю, что" as an analogy to a student who multiplied two numbers in his mind and is confident what the product is? That is, can I interpret "я считаю, что" as "I calculated or analyzed something and came to a firm conclusion that"?
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 18 '19 at 19:10
  • This analogy comes to my mind because the literal meaning of "я считаю" is "I calculate."
    – Mitsuko
    Jun 18 '19 at 19:12
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    @Mitsuko no, calculation isn't involved here, such opinion is totally subjective with no objective criteria to gauge its accuracy, if i think he's spent a lot, it's only a lot in my mind... the connection with the semantics of counting is matter of research, the meaning of having an opinion could be a borrowing from another language, that's why i used to reckon as it also means to count among other things Jun 18 '19 at 19:16
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Я думаю, что ...

I have not come to any position yet.
I see, that there are options of possible positions and each position has its arguments, but I have not studied and have not verified them yet to say to myself that position X is really true and the rest are false.

Я считаю, что ...

I have come to some position already.
I see, that there are options of possible positions and each position has its arguments, and I have studied them and have verified them to say to myself that position X is really true and the rest are false.
I do understand, that my choice might be wrong, but I have to choose some position and after studying them all I have chosen position X.
If some new strong arguments arrive I might change my position, but for current set of arguments and information I am ready to fight and protect my chosen position X.

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Yuo may consider this translation:

Я считаю, что он потратил много денег.

I've came to conclusion, that he spent to much money

The meaning is that opinion is not emotional, but it is a result of some reasoning

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Я думаю, что он потратил много денег.

Фраза лишена интенсивности и эмоциональной задействованности, и в ней присутствует примесь предположительности и сомнения: "А так ли это было на самом деле? Может быть, для него это не так и много."

I guess he must have had spent a ton of money. (quite hesitant declaration)

I would say he had spent a ton of money. (hesitant declaration)

Я считаю, что он потратил много денег.

В этой фразе гораздо выше интенсивность эмоциональной и репутационной (self) задействованности в оценку. Допустим, с данной оценкой кто-то несогласен, и выразит это мнение вслух. Тем самым, будет поставлена под удар личность давшего оценку, и произойдёт открытый конфликт. Заметим, что конфликтность начисто отсутствует в таком английском переводе, хотя оценка всё-таки есть:

I believe he has spent a ton of money. (neutral declaration)

Добавить конфликтности и напряжённости можно, например, так:

I believe that he had spent a lot of money. (strong declaration)

I believe that he had spent too much money. (stronger declaration that judges the money quantity)

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