Believe vs. Believe in

Believe vs believe inWhen I arrived in Brazil in 2001, I didn’t speak a lick of (a bit of) Portuguese. Sem fazer nem uma aula de português, eu aprendi na prática. Interestingly enough, I learned quite a bit while giving English lessons. I started noticing certain mistakes that were repeated by all of my students, and came to the conclusion that they must be translating directly from português. In turn that helped me learn the structure of the Portuguese language.

One mistake I noticed across the board was the use of “believe in”, “acreditar em”. I would often find my students making comments like, “I was late for work because the traffic was terrible, but I don’t think my boss believed in me.”; or if he or she said something that surprised me the response to my surprise was, “You don’t believe in me?!”

At first I didn’t get it. I thought to myself, “Wow, there are a lot of undervalued people in this country!” However, the more often I heard this mistake, the more I realized that in colloquial Portuguese “acreditar em” a maioria das vezes simply means to believe.

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A little confused? See, in English “to believe something/someone” and “to believe in something/someone” have different meanings. For example, if your teenage daughter comes home at 3 a.m. smelling of alcohol and tells you she was at a friend’s house “just watching movies”, you would say, “I don’t believe you!” However, if you were to tell her, “I don’t believe in you”, well, you’d be considered a pretty lousy parent; for if there is one thing a parent should never do, it is to stop believing in their children.

When you “believe someone” it means you accept that what this person is saying is true. In the above situation, your daughter is not telling the truth, so you don’t believe her. When you “believe in someone” it means you accept the existence of or recognize the value of that person. So, if you don’t believe in your daughter, or son, or whomever, then you simply don’t recognize that this person exists. He or she means nothing to you, holds no value for you.

When a father tells his son that Santa Claus will arrive on Christmas Eve to leave tons of presents under the tree, if the son no longer believes in Santa then he will not believe his father.

If a friend confesses to you one day that she has seen a ghost, and you tell her that you too have seen one, then you believe her; and therefore the two of you can say you believe in ghosts.

Have I clarified the difference for you? I hope so! Now, can anyone else think of examples of how to use these terms correctly?


Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith é americana que mora no Brasil desde 2001. Durante os primeiros sete anos aqui ela dava aulas particulares de inglês, e atualmente trabalha como diretora de conteúdo do site

32 comentários

  • 10/05/09  
    Gabriel diz: 1

    It’s impressing how the meaning of a word can change with just one little preposition. Useful tip! I BELIEVE IN English Experts, hehe :D

  • 10/05/09  
    Eduardo V. diz: 2

    Tem uma música do John Lennon que exemplifica bem o uso de “believe in”.

    God is a concept,
    By which we can measure,
    Our pain,
    I’ll say it again,
    God is a concept,
    By which we can measure,
    Our pain,
    I don’t believe in magic,
    I don’t believe in I-ching,
    I don’t believe in bible,
    I don’t believe in tarot,
    I don’t believe in Hitler,
    I don’t believe in Jesus,
    I don’t believe in Kennedy,
    I don’t believe in Buddha,
    I don’t believe in mantra,
    I don’t believe in Gita,
    I don’t believe in yoga,
    I don’t believe in kings,
    I don’t believe in Elvis,
    I don’t believe in Zimmerman,
    I don’t believe in Beatles,
    I just believe in me,
    Yoko and me,
    And that’s reality.
    The dream is over,
    What can I say?
    The dream is over,
    I was dreamweaver,
    But now I’m reborn,
    I was the walrus,
    But now I’m John,
    And so dear friends,
    You just have to carry on,
    The dream is over.

  • 10/05/09  
    marcus diz: 3

    interesting tip. thanks ;)

  • 10/05/09  
    Lucas diz: 4

    Ashley, thanks for your lesson… it was really,really helpful :)

    Check this example for me plis:

    “I don’t believe in those movies about mosters and all that creatures, but i believe that the director of those kind of movies have a great imagination for make movies like that.”

    is it right? hehe, i don’t know if is the best example, but, “believe me”, i understand! :D haha.

    See ya!

  • 10/05/09  
    Fernando diz: 5

    Yup. I think “believe in” means to have faith in something/someone, that’s like “do you believe in god?” or ” believe in yourself, or you’ll never succeed.”

  • 11/05/09  
    Fabiana diz: 6

    Spot on…. this is a great post. Loved it, Ashley. Nice name btw…

  • 11/05/09  
    Patricia diz: 7

    This topic was great and helpful. I know and believe me, it is great too.
    thank you Ashley!

  • 11/05/09  
    zilmar diz: 8

    Excellent!!!Tips like that is very interesting.

  • 11/05/09  
    José diz: 9

    thank you, Ashley, your text helped me so much!

    i believe your explanation and i believe in my skill to learn english!


  • 11/05/09  
    Juliana diz: 10

    Thanks for your tips. I’m learning a lot.

  • 11/05/09  
    Francisco de Assis Marques de Sousa diz: 11

    I believe in God and in the power of the man. I believe too in English Expert, It is great! Thank you. Assis

  • 11/05/09  
    Thais Aguiar diz: 12

    Great lesson!! Thank you!

  • 11/05/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 13

    Great example, Lucas!
    I’m glad everyone’s enjoyed the tip!

  • 11/05/09  
    Ronaldo diz: 14

    bah, legal, li todo o texto e saquei direitinho a diferença, to orgulhoso de mim !! :D


  • 11/05/09  
    Aline diz: 15

    Very nice! Acctualy I use “to believe” in the correct form, but I didn’t know the difference between to believe and to believe in, thank you very much! Great tip!!

  • 11/05/09  
    Diêgo Lôbo diz: 16

    Yes, this was a great lesson.
    Thanks for it, dude.

  • 11/05/09  
    Dativo Marques diz: 17

    Profª Ashley,

    gostei demais de sua explicação. E, ainda mais, do inglês elegante e bem escrito. Textos assim dão ao leitor além de prazer na leitura, a assimilação fácil do conteúdo. Parabéns!

  • 11/05/09  
    maristela diz: 18

    que legal…nem me passava pela cabeca que tinha diferenca kkkkk…..vo repassar a dica… thanks

  • 11/05/09  
    Frederico diz: 19

    Hello Ashley! Excellent post!!!

  • 12/05/09  
    fatima f rocha diz: 20

    I had never heard about this difference.Good tip!

  • 13/05/09  
    Otávio diz: 21

    Thanks! excellent test! this is a mistake i wont make anymore.

  • 13/05/09  
    Robson kriger diz: 22

    Estou salvando os arquivos em PDF e alguns não estão abrindo, dando mensagem de erro de arquivo. O problema é com o acrobat ?

    • 14/05/09  
      Alessandro diz:


      Pode ser problema na hora de baixar o arquivo. Tente efetuar o download novamente.


  • 13/05/09  
    bianca diz: 23

    I liked the tip a lot !!! I`m an English student, all the tips help me. I have some doubts about using genetive case. Can you help me ?

  • 15/05/09  
    Ana diz: 24

    Hello Ashley. I didn’t know that there is this difference. Thanks for the tip.

  • 16/05/09  
    Allan diz: 25

    I believed that I believe in text.

  • 19/05/09  
    Jack diz: 26

    Good tip , ;]

  • 21/05/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 27

    I’m happy to have made this difference very clear for everyone! Dativo Marques, obrigada pelo elogio! E Bianca o meu próximo blog vai falar sobre o genitive case, então fique ligado!

  • 21/05/09  
    Ashley Smith diz: 28

    Oh, and Patricia, how wonderful that you know meInglês and think it’s great! Thank you! Aparece mais ali!

  • 19/10/09  
    Sterferson diz: 29

    Bright text!

  • 02/12/09  
    Rogerio Carlos diz: 30

    I`m cool for this post thanks a lot!

  • 21/12/09  
    Fernando Aquino diz: 31

    Hey Ashley, thank you so very much for all the tips you have given us! I kind of knew the difference between these two but I was not sure about it. I used to talk to a friend who lives in Canada and every time I used this verb I would say “believe in” so he would look at me funny… like I don’t trust anyone or even him. LOL.
    So nice of you to explain this to us. Thanks a bunch!!
    Just one more thing. I haven’t looked though all the posts so I don’t know if there is a post about this but I would appreciate if you could write on the difference between TO and FOR. I know when I should use them in most of the cases but sometimes I still get confused. Like the example above: I am not sure if I should say “explain this TO us or explain this FOR us”.. so it would be amazing if you gave us a tip on that.
    Wish you all the best!
    ~ Fernando ~