Can the past form of the verb "think" imply a single instance of thinking rather than a habitual way of thinking about something or someone?

I mean this, many times I heard such phrases like "In those days we thought that...", "For years humans thought that...", "I had always thought of him as of..." etc. In all these cases a certain way of thinking that has or had been there for a quite a lengthy period of time consisting of many days is implied. So, it's not like "it suddenly occurred to me", "then it dawned on me that", "at that moment it crossed my mind that...".

I know that such structure like "suddenly" + "thought" is quite common. For example, "Suddenly, I thought of Mary", but in this case it is more an act of recalling someone rather than thinking of someone in some new way.

So, would something like "When we first met and he said to me that he didn't like animals, I thought of him as of a tough guy" be idiomatic?

1 Answer 1


No, I don't think that it is.

Some uses of think are punctual, some are states. There is some correlation with the precise meaning, and that in turn is correlated with the subcategorisation frame.

So "to think of something" is usually punctual, with the meaning of "have the thought occur to one". But "to think something of someone" is not punctual, but a state that generally continues, with the meaning "hold an opinion".

So in your example, the "When" introduces a punctual event, so we expect the main clause to be punctual, and that is inconsistent with "I thought of him as". If you substitute after for when, it's much better.

  • Thank you. But wouldn't "After we first met..." mean then that I only started thinking of him in that particular way after our first meeting was over rather than right after he told me about his dislike towards animals (which might have been at the very beginning of the meeting, that is, long before it was over)?
    – brilliant
    Jun 20, 2019 at 22:06
  • @brilliant: maybe, but not necessarily. "Meet" can also be punctual (the moment of meeting) or extended (the whole of the social activity of meeting). "After we first met" would not be specific between these.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 20, 2019 at 22:18
  • I see. Thank you!
    – brilliant
    Jun 20, 2019 at 22:32

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