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I can think of one context in which it is always better to use "believe" over "think." When you want to convey your belief or trust in someone or something. God, for example. Being faithful, too. That your child will complete college.

In other contexts, I sometimes struggle to know which of the two words is appropriate. I understand that thinking is weaker than believing, but is the difference between them as simple as the one between thinking and strongly thinking.

In the following sentences, I'm not sure whether believe or think is the better choice.

  • I believe/think you will win the competition if you practice every day for the next three months.
  • I believe/think I got a B on the exam, but I'll have to double check. It's been a while since I saw my grade.
  • I know that context always matters for questions like this one, but I believe/think you will be able to provide some insight anyway.
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As you say, when expressing some kind of opinion these are more or less equivalent. Nevertheless there is a difference in the underlying meaning.

"Believe" implies a sense of the truth of something, even in the absence of evidence. "Think", on the other hand, implies some mental process to arrive at some conclusion. You can "believe" in something without "thinking" about it, and you can "think" something is true but not "believe" in it 100%. For example:

I believe Albert Einstein when he said, "God does not play dice with the universe."

This implies that I may not understand all of the reasons why Einstein said this, but I nevertheless think it is accurate. Meanwhile:

I think Albert Einstein was right when he said ...

may imply belief, or it may imply that I too have considered the issue and come to a similar conclusion. It's much the same with philosophical or religious statements where no conclusive evidence is possible.

I believe that humans are born "good".

implies I have a strong sense of the truthfulness of this statement, whether or not there is evidence.

I think that humans are born "good".

implies a process of mental contemplation with this as the result.

Again, the differences can be subtle, but nevertheless significant in some contexts. One last example to think about:

Abel: I think that God exists.
Ben: But you don't believe that God exists?

If "think" and "believe" are the same, then Ben's response wouldn't make sense, right?

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    Sometimes these words are used rhetorically, as in, for example, 'I believe John Doe is the man who will make our country great again'. If, instead, the speaker said ' I think John Doe...' then more doubt would be introduced than intended. – JeremyC Jul 18 at 21:49
  • Great answer. You can also "think" about something and the notion of "believe" will have nothing to do with the thought process. For example: I had to think for a long time before I finally figured out that brain teaser. – J.R. Jul 22 at 0:20
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In the example sentences, and in many other sentences, "believe" and "think" can be used more or less interchangeably. The word "believe" is perhaps slightly more formal, and it emphasizes the thought process more, but any difference in meaning is subtle, and will often pass unnoticed.

When referring to a mental or philosophical concept "believe" is probably a better choice. I the form "I believe in X" whatever X might be, "think" can't be simply substituted.

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