Class vs. lesson

“The lesson is that you can still make mistakes and be forgiven.”

Robert Downey, Jr., an American actor and singer

“Class” and “lesson” are among the most frequently used words in English. So, we can often hear something like “Mary took guitar lessons” or “I go to dance classes”. Are the words “lesson” and “class” interchangeable? Let’s find out…

Class

Meanings and examples

Lesson

Meanings and examples

1.       (countable noun) a group of students who are taught together at school/university/college:

I spent a year in a class with younger students.

They are reducing class sizes to boost the effectiveness of their courses.

The teacher gave the whole class extra homework for a week.

1.       (countable noun) a fixed period of time when people are taught about a particular subject or taught about how to do something:

I’m sorry to say that this is our last lesson.

When I was a child, I took singing lessons.

She is a teacher. She gives English lessons.

How can we make physics lessons more interesting to teenagers?

 

This meaning of “lesson” might look similar to the “course” meaning of “class”.

But think of a class as, first of all, a section of a course, and think of a lesson as a certain period of time. Sometimes the words can substitute each other depending on the idea you want to communicate. Compare:

  • In my Japanese class yesterday, we discussed particles. Meaning: At that particular (yesterday) stage we discussed particles.
  • In my Japanese lesson yesterday, we discussed particles. Meaning: In class (see meaning 4 of “class”) / during that period of time yesterday, we discussed particles.
2.       (countable noun) a course of teaching in a particular subject or a particular instance/section of a course:

He acquired his degree by taking classes (= a course) at night.

She goes to pottery classes (= she is taking/doing a pottery course).

You don’t have to take a class (= a course) if you don’t want to.

I have classes (= particular instances of my course) all day on Monday.

In my Japanese class (= a particular instance of the course) yesterday, we discussed particles.

 

Note that in this case “class” is less formal than “course” (a set of classes or a plan of study on a particular subject, usually leading to an exam or qualification).

3.       (always singular) the students in a school or university who finish their course in a particular year:

These members of Yale’s Class of ’78 never miss a reunion.

2.       (countable noun) an experience which acts as a warning to you or an example from which you should learn:

There is a lesson for all parents in this accident.

4.       (uncountable noun) in class means during a lesson in school:

There is a lot of reading in class.

You answered all these questions in class.

I am sorry for how I acted in class.

There are some idioms related to the second meaning of “lesson”, which is an experience that teaches you how to behave better in a similar situation in the future. Here are some examples:

  • To teach sb. a lesson – somebody or something that teaches you a lesson improves your future behavior by making you experience the bad effects of your actions: Having my bike stolen taught me a lesson – I’ll never leave it unlocked again.
  • To learn one’s/a lesson – to suffer a bad experience and know not to do it again: There is an important lesson we have learned from the crisis.