There seems to be quite a big overlap according to dictionaries, but my guess is that there is a subtle difference. Let me give one example sentence that I would like to translate:

I am looking for a partner who is thoughtful (reflective/thinks deeply about things).

It seems like nachdenklich fits here, but some many dictionaries also offer "pensive" as a translation for nachdenklich, which is something slightly different, as it adds a connotation of some sadness involved (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pensive). This is not what I want to express in my example sentence.

Which of the two words (nachdenklich vs. gedankenvoll) best fits the example sentence the best, and then what does the other one mean?

  • 2
    While gedankenvoll would sure be understand as the opposite of gedankenlos, it's not a common German word. See e.g. gegenteile.net/gegenteil-von-gedankenlos My favourite for your sentence is achtsam.
    – Janka
    Jul 27, 2018 at 1:55
  • 3
    Gedankenvoll is hardly used at all. It expresses, more or less, that your head is full of thoughts. Nachdenklich is more the person you are looking for, but it also has a connotation of not being communicative. I would express what you are looking for in a person in a few sentences rather using a single word that might be misinterpreted.
    – RoyPJ
    Jul 27, 2018 at 8:52

3 Answers 3


I would also say that nachdenklich in isolation might suggest a somewhat melancholic demeanor. Gedankenvoll is indeed rarely used. From a quick corpus research (Cosmas II/Deutsches Referenzkorpus, W-öffentlich) it also appears to be used almost exclusively to describe works or abstract concepts (gedankenvolle Melodie, gedankenvolles Buch, gedankenvolles Gedicht, gedankenvolle Worte, gedankenvolle Schwere). In the very few cases where it does refer to a person, its scope is confined to some particular action/appearance of that person (Mr Stallone war nett und gedankenvoll im Gespräch seinerzeit. Und doch ist der Autor auch hier gedankenvoll, ihm fällt etwas ein.). On the other hand, I checked all corpus hits from 2015 but have not found a single instance where the adjective is used to describe a person's character.

To suggest a response to your question, the first word that came to my mind is reflektiert. Some examples:

  • Denkler, ein kluger, reflektierter Journalist, macht sich viele Gedanken zu seinem Job. (Der Spiegel, 10.01.2011, S. 42)
  • Opper ist zuversichtlich: „Der Erfolg der Jugendpflege wird sich nur schwer messen lassen. Aber ich bin ein offener Mensch, der auf die Menschen zugeht, gern lacht und für allen Spaß zu haben ist. Ich bin ein reflektierter und ein sehr aktiver Mensch“, sagt Opper von sich selbst. (Rhein-Zeitung, 18.06.2011, S. 21)
  • Aus dem Halbstarken, der als Türsteher jobbte und sich für schicke Kleidung interessierte, ist ein reflektierter Erwachsener geworden. „Ich weiß jetzt, was wirklich wichtig ist“, sagt er: „Menschenrechte, Gerechtigkeit und die einfachen Dinge im Leben.“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22.08.2011, S. 3)
  • Wer sagt, dass er etwas nicht verträgt, gilt als sensibler, reflektierter Mensch, der sich viele Gedanken über das Essen macht. Er ist sozial anerkannter, als jemand der sagt: "Ich schluck eh alles." (Die Presse, 01.02.2015, S. 12)

I agree with RoyPJ in the comments, though, that single words are rarely able to capture the exact range of meaning that you wish to convey.


Oh man this is a big can of worms you're opening here. Let's start with the difference between the examples you provided.

nachdenklich: Viewing a specific topic from many different directions. This one has a clear direction the topic that is thought about but is used not for a specific topic but denoting a general approach of the described person to presented challenges.

gedankenvoll: Making more random connections to topics that are encountered. Generally you're dealing with a lack of structure and direction.

Now to your request a translation for thoughtful, when it is supposed to mean thinks deeply about things. Here we have a problem because deeply has both an emotional and a structural/complexity connotation in English while in German one wouldn't normally mix these. It's extra difficult because of the example you provided where it isn't clear if thinks deeply or cares deeply or both are searched for. So let's do some guessing.

It's meant cares deeply about people and is observant and thoughtful of social interactionsfeinfühlig or zuvorkommend. Dohn Joe's examples for aufmerksam and rücksichtsvoll might be even better.

It's to be understood as thorough in his approach on problems he encounters gründlich.

We could go on but we would drift further away from the specific example and it would turn into rambling about the different words German has for thinking and their meaning.


More a side-note than an answer.

Derived words (I don't know the proper term for this class of words), e.g. Nachdenken and nachdenklich, may have unexpected/special/nuanced meanings or they aren't common. The example of gedankenlos and gedankenvoll was mentioned in the comments of the question. The former is in regular use, the latter not really.

Sometimes, as a pun, I say "Ich bin bedenklich.", when I really want to say "Ich habe Bedenken." The meaning of the first sentence is quite different from the second. The first translates to "Second thoughts are justified with respect to me." whereas the second means "I have second thoughts."

In this case, the adjektive "bedenklich" means that "Bedenken" are expressed/justified with regards to the noun "bedenklich" is applied to. It does not, however, mean that, when applied to a person, this person has expressed "Bedenken".

Without the additional information in the parentheses, I would interpret the toughtful in

I am looking for a partner who is thoughtful

more as aufmerksam or as rücksichtsvoll, meaning being aware of, and caring for my needs;

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