1. Engaged in deep and serious thought.
2. Showing or expressing deep, often melancholy thought: a pensive look.
[Middle English pensif, from Old French, from penser, to think, from Latin pēnsāre, frequentative of pendere, to weigh; see (s)pen- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: pensive, contemplative, reflective, meditative, thoughtful
These adjectives mean characterized by or disposed to deep or serious thought. Pensive often connotes a wistful, dreamy, or sad quality: "while pensive poets painful vigils keep" (Alexander Pope).
Contemplative implies slow directed consideration, often with conscious intent of achieving better understanding or spiritual or aesthetic enrichment: "[He] had envisioned an actual grove of academe through which scholars young and old might take contemplative strolls" (Tom Wolfe).
Reflective suggests careful analytical deliberation, as in reappraising past experience: "She ... is as wise as if she'd been on this earth for eighty years. Her nature is reflective—not all over the map, like mine" (Alice Munro).
Meditative implies earnest sustained thought: "She sat with her shoulders rounded in some clearly deepening meditative privacy and forgot me" (E.L. Doctorow).
Thoughtful can refer to absorption in thought or to the habit of reflection and circumspection: "I had spoken at once ... to Silvius about our departure, and we talked the matter over, for he was a thoughtful and intelligent child, and children have a wisdom of their own" (Ursula K. Le Guin).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.