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What are the differences between 'I think', 'I suppose', 'I guess', and 'I reckon'? In which case is one more preferred than the others?

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Much depends on context. The most important thing to remember is that by and large where the same general sense is intended, guess and reckon are very much more informal (suitable for casual spoken contexts, but not really for anything remotely formal). But there can also be other nuances...


"The boss said they're going to be downsizing this office. Does that mean we might be sacked?"
a: "I think so"
b: "I suppose so"

In a context like that, think may simply be a "neutral" verb indicating that's what the speaker believes to be the case. But suppose can often convey a certain "resigned acceptance" of something which is implicitly assumed to be true.

That same "resigned acceptance" sense can also apply with informal guess. So, for example,...

"Let's not just have another delivery pizza tonight. How about we go out for a chinese?"
a: *"I think [so] (NOTE - not a credible response!)
b: "I suppose [so]"
c: "I guess [so]"
d: "I reckon [so]"

In that context, (b) and (c) convey limited enthusiasm for the idea, where (d) is usually more "positive".


I'm sure not everyone will agree, but I personally find that of the "informal" versions, reckon is somewhat more dialectal/rustic/folksy than guess.


In recognition of @Tyler's now-deleted answer, note that there are contexts where the choice of verb may reflect degree of certainty. For example, as a response to "I wonder why geese migrate"...

a: "I think they fly south to be warm"
b: "I guess they fly south to be warm"

Remember that just because think/suppose are more appropriate in formal contexts doesn't imply they're less appropriate in informal contexts. In the above (informal) context, think implies the speaker already had this opinion (possibly with near certainty), so the statement carries more conviction. On the other hand, guess carries more the implication I don't know, but if I had to guess, this is what I might think (i.e. - the "reluctance" referred to earlier applies to willingness to express an opinion at all here).

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  • Excellent answer, and my intuition agrees wholeheartedly! Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 12:16
  • In terms of certainty, does 'reckon' connote more certain than 'guess'?
    – dan
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 3:19
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    @dan: Not really. But in most contexts, reckon certainly connotes a more relaxed / dialectal register. It's certainly not the kind of word you'd be expected to use in reference to what you think in a formal / academic context. Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 14:41

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