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“think of” vs. “think to”

My husband is from the UK. I am from the USA. We have a grammar question. I will post two questions which demonstrate the question of the use of the word ‘to’ instead of ‘of’ in a sentence.

What do you think of my new car?

What do you think to my new car?

I have wagered that the use of ‘to’ is grammatically incorrect in the second example sentence. I believe it may be in ‘usage’, but it is not correct. Does anyone have any knowledge to share on this matter?

  • August 20, 2011
  • Posted by lanora
  • Filed in Usage

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Timbo is absolutely right as to number 2
It might be useful to use the British National Corpus website, here, for instance

As to 'THINK TO' notice the sentece marked as ADW 583 - it makes sense in that TO marks the INFINITIVE MOOD, meaning 'intention' 'purpose' 'plan' or the likes and, of course, it is not a preposition

lux December 17, 2012, 12:11am

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Both sides of the Atlantic have their foibles and things which are non-standard. Many times on American movies I hear (from supposedly educated characters): "if I would have gone, she would have been happy" instead of "If I had gone...". Conversely in England, many people say: "...she would of been happy".

Both of us completely mangle the grammatical form "this house is different from that one", with many English people saying "different to" and Americans saying "different than".

Not only do the English and Americans have differences in the way they talk, but the Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians also have subtle shibboleths which mark them as different.

Language is not a static construct, it is an evolving means of communication. Several hundred years ago, participle adjectives (bored, boring, interested, interesting, spell-bound, spell-binding) as well as the present continuous (present progressive) were frowned upon as corruptions, now they are the stable of English everywhere. Likewise, a few years ago use of "do" as an auxiliary (I go not > I do not go) was fiercely debated among linguists. Now, I cannot make a question without it, and it is even contracted (don't) which was the cardinal sin for linguists of centuries gone by.

Stephen McLean March 4, 2012, 1:28pm

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England, being the ancient home of the English language has more dialects than all of the other anglophone countries put together. There are places in England where variations of "thou art" are still used and even from town to town you can perceive some sort of difference in pronunciation, accent and grammar.

In slang in many shires of the north people use "were" for every person. I were, he were, we were, they were. Whereas in southern colloquial English many people use "was". I was, you was, we was, they was. Again this dates back to 2 ancient forms of English where that was the standard. In fact, that is probably more correct than our present artificial form of speaking.

"Think to" is similarly a very ancient variation dating back from the 9th century when English was not one language, but at least 7 different languages. Those differences sometimes manifest themselves in local dialects. This particular variation probably comes from the Viking controlled areas during the Danelaw period.

All these nationalistic comments about either side of the Atlantic being unable to speak English are complete and utter xenophobic nonsense.

Stephen McLean March 4, 2012, 1:04pm

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Timbo, your examples are all slang.
1. "The mouse is closer than you think to the cheese." is abysmal English.
The proper way to say that would be "The mouse is closer to the cheese than you think."
2. In this case, Ben Johnson is creatively using "think to" as a directive in the simple present tense (to think to act, rather than to act). Also, it is not used as an interrogative, as is the original question.
3. The British have abandoned proper English altogether. Informal slang is all they speak today. Like salmon swimming upstream, proper English is a struggle to maintain in our increasingly lazy societies.

Jason October 7, 2011, 10:49am

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To think to act, meaning thinking of acting, wondering whether to act ...

To think to act soon, or maybe to put it on hold.

Birmingham is indeed a beautiful city, when viewed with one's eyes shut, also with eyes open, viewing the place in the rear-view mirror, retreating into the distance.

Brus October 5, 2011, 3:10am

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"Think to" is used in three ways that I can think of:

1 "The mouse is closer than you think to the cheese." Here "to"refers back to "closer" not to "think", so I think we can discount it as not relevant to this discussion.

2 "think to ruin where it seemed to raise" (Ben Johnson). "Think" is here used in a sense closer to "plan" and so it does make sense.

3 It is sometimes used in British English, or at least local dialects, in the sense in the original question above, but usually in a more combative or challenging manner, for example "What do you think to that then, eh?" I have heard it in inforrmal spoken English (in the beautiful English city of Birmingham; I can't speak for other places) in a less challenging tone, such as the example given above of "what do you think to my new car?"; however, I would suggest that it is usually only used informally.

As to whether it is correct in this third sense, I would suggest it is one of those happy quirks of unusual usages that make English such a fun language. As noted above, it very much imples "towards" and physical movement, which perhaps adds a certain nuance that "of" or "about" don't possess.

Timbo October 4, 2011, 3:33pm

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'Think to ..." is wrong, no doubt about it. It is dialect, not standard English. As an English resident for some decades I have not even heard it used. They do have some strange variations on standard English, colloquially, but not this one!
My first encounter with strange idiom in England was hearing a teacher tell his class to "stay sat", thirty years ago, and now it is quite common to hear "We were sat (somewhere) ...". Most regional and other dialect is fun and entertaining, but this one is plain ugly, and so is "think to"!

Brus October 1, 2011, 4:30pm

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I see your train of reasoning. I think "to" could be a lazy application of "towards".
But "What do you think towards my car"? I think "towards" falls just a bit short.
Maybe we are missing some kind of tense. Lets try the Present Progressive Tense...
"What is your thinking towards my car?"
Now, I'm no linguist, but don't that sound better? ;-)

Jason September 28, 2011, 4:50pm

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First, let me say that I have never in my life, seen or heard "..think to...". I am American, but I'm not convinced this is common Brittish speech either. I was about to cast another vote for "of", but then I started thinking. What about "towards"? I came up with a few related constructions that I think many will find less objectionable:

"What are your feelings towards Mary?"
"What/how do you feel towards Mary?"
"What are your thoughts towards Mary?"
"What do you think towards Mary?"

Now, I'll admit the last one may sound a little awkward, but I think that by comparison, the use of "towards" in this type of construction may be a little more common. Using "to" isn't that far a stretch from "towards". I would use "think of" or "think about", but perhaps I've presented a kind of path towards understanding the use of "to" in this case.

porsche September 28, 2011, 2:27pm

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I don't think "to" and "of" are collapsible concepts. It seems to me, "to" refers to a DIRECTION or TRAVEL either in time or in space. "of" refers to the QUALITY or ESSENCE of something. So "of" and "about" may be collapsible.
What do you think of my new car? = What do you think ABOUT THE QUALITY OF my new car?

What do you think to my new car? = What do you think UNTIL YOU ARRIVE AT my new car? or IN THE DIRECTION OF my new car?

Jason September 28, 2011, 11:19am

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I'm sure that it pre-dates the emergence of the Chav. I doubt that it's particular to them, as that particular subculture has drawn its language from a combination of American films, Jamaican vernacular and text-speak.

You are probably correct in thinking they are yet another wave of the same subculture, somewhat akin to the old "bovver boys" judging by the use of language and lower educational level (not necessarily by nature - I feel that a lot of them have based their lives on "Idiocracy")

And indeed, "half ten" does mean "half past ten". The past has slowly waned in common usage over, I would assume, the last 30 years. I certainly remember using the clarifying "past" when I was young.

As to whether "o'clock" means "of-" or "on-" the clock, I will leave to those with more knowledge than myself. Neither seem overly elegant to my ear, perhaps it's a throw-back to Middle-English?

TerryC September 21, 2011, 9:39am

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We were taught that "o'clock" meant "of the clock," even though that's not a phrase that makes sense to the American ear. So it was an explanation that fell short... but it's a use of "of" in the timely context, like "quarter of."

Your mention of "quarter of" also made me think of "half ten," as opposed to "half past ten." In the US we only hear "half ten" in British TV & movies. (and I'm assuming it means "half past," rather than "half an hour before.")

koam September 21, 2011, 5:22am

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So you're saying a Chav would say "think to," I take it. ("Think to" is something that I'd never heard of until this thread.) But do you think that it pre-dates the Chav? or are Chavs just the newest incarnation of a long-lived subculture?

I never thought much about "quarter of," but I get it. I can't say that I've noticed a class distinction in who uses "quarter of" vs. "quarter to" -- they're used interchangeably.

koam September 21, 2011, 5:14am

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As a hopefully fairly literate Brit, I was taught that the correct form is "think of". To "think to" strikes me as an attempt to think in the direction of something rather that having thoughts on a subject.

In a similar vein, I've been somewhat bemused (and amused) by the American English usage of the phrase "quarter of the hour" as opposed to the British "quarter to". Hearing "it's a quarter of ten" makes my mathematical mind imagine that it's two and a half.

And what kind of people use it over here...

TerryC September 20, 2011, 11:09pm

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I hate to ruin your fun with your French hypothesis, but you wouldn't use "penser à" in this context. If your asking for an opinion you use "penser de". This difference likely results from the different grammars of British and American English. While there are few actual differences in grammar between the two dialects, they do exist, e.g. "go to hospital" v. "go to the hospital".

Ebeurle September 6, 2011, 5:15am

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"How much French is in him?"

As a French speaker, I immediately had the same thought: the different nuances in meaning between "penser à" and "penser de".

JJMBallantyne August 29, 2011, 2:14pm

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How much French is in him? At least for the word "think," the French use "penser à" meaning to think about something and "à" is normally translated (though not necessarily correctly) as "to." Of course, if he uses "to" in place of "of" all the time regardless of the word, what I typed is moot.

Enéwé, if you can understand it, I say it's correct. And really something as small as saying "to" in place of "of" isn't something to get ruffled over. Unless it's a matter of pride, and if it is, "of" is correct and "to" is nonsense. I wish those Brits would learn some English (note that this is a joke and is not intended to offend anyone, if it offends you, please unplug yourself from the Internet and never go back on it. Ever.)

jalinweaver August 23, 2011, 7:53pm

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I think you win! Think to isn't even in the debate in the BBC answer:

AnWulf August 23, 2011, 6:55pm

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Searching google for the "to" phrase in quotes along with the word "Usage" yields a few results.

1) In Urban Dictionary, it's used as an example in a decidedly British definition and example dialog

2) Here it's used by SineadTemptation, who also writes British, not American

So it's used in the UK. You'd have to ask a literate Brit what kind of person uses it.

koam August 22, 2011, 6:09am

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A google search for the second usage, between quotes, turns up over 2 million results.

In the USA "to" is not right. If you catch someone from the USA and in the USA using it, punish him severely. I cannot speak for whether it's acceptable in the UK. Those Brits say all kinds of things that we don't. And allow for that there are dozens of dialects there, some of them fully based on illiteracy (as is the case here).

I knew a girl from the South of the USA who always said, "Smell of it" as a command. It was wrong, but I figured it was a regional thing.

As for the Google search results, I'm not reading enough of them to figure out if it's regional.

koam August 22, 2011, 5:51am

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Yes     No