Learn vs. Study

Learn vs. Study

Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”

Marilyn vos Savant, an American magazine columnist


If you learn something, you get knowledge or skill in a new subject or activity:

I am learning to play the saxophone.

We learn English.

I need to learn how to dance.

I need some inspiration to learn.

It’s possible to learn something by 1) study (the devotion of time and attention to gaining knowledge of an academic subject), 2) experience or 3) being taught: 1) This books helps me learn grammar. 2) I have learnt to listen to other people. 3) I have learnt this from you.

You also learn something if you memorize it: 

There is an old proverb that says if a person does not learn poetry as a child, they will not know how to pray as an adult.

To play chess, you must learn the rules and the principles (for example, the value of different pieces).

I’ve been trying to learn the same lines for an hour now.

To learn something by heart meaning to memorize something: Learn this poem by heart.

If you learn of something, you find out about it:

I have learnt of his mother’s death.

I learnt that the party had been over.

He will learn about your marriage.

Finally, if people learn to behave or react in a particular way, they gradually start to behave in that way as a result of a change in attitudes:

I must learn to control my emotions.

He needs to learn to concentrate.

Learn to face your fears.


If you study, you learn about a subject, especially in an educational course or by reading books:

I would like to study chemistry.

Next term we will study algebra.

She’s been studying for her doctorate for three years already.

I can’t study in such a noisy place!

Should I really study grammar?

So, if you study, you spend time learning about a particular subject or subjects.


The exam is tomorrow! I must study!
The driving test is tomorrow, but I still need to learn to park a car!

To study is to learn a particular subject or subjects, especially in a school or college or by reading books. To learn is to acquire a skill/knowledge, or become competent in something. 

To study under somebody means to be taught be somebody:

As a young painter, he studied under Picasso.

I would be happy to study under such a great teacher.

The verb “study” has another meaning. To study is to examine something very carefully:

Study the contract before signing it. (“You need to learn the contact” would sound like you need to memorize it, but “study the contract” means “read it very carefully in order to know every detail of it.”)

Take the documents home and study them.

Our boss is studying the report.

Researchers have been studying how people under stress make decisions. (They look at this process very closely to learn more about it.)

She studied the embroidery to see how it was done.


There are some idioms related to learning and studying which we’d like you to learn (= commit to memory). Here they are:

  • To learn a lessonto suffer a bad experience and know not to do it again: 1) Don’t worry. I’ve learnt my lesson, and I won’t make the same mistake again. 2) Maybe he’ll actually learn a lesson this time. – Yes, I hope it will teach him a lesson. 
  • To learn the ropes (= to know the ropes) – to learn/know how to do a job or activity:  1) He tried hiring more salesmen to push the products, but they took too much time to learn the ropes. 2) He needs to learn the ropes, and I’m the ropes master.
  • To learn something the hard wayto discover what you need to know through experience or by making mistakes: 1) I had to learn the hard way, and I’m afraid that you haven’t learned that at all. 2) Starting your own business is really tough. I had to learn that the hard way.
  • Rote learning (usually disapproving) – learning something in order to be able to repeat it from memory, rather than in order to understand it: 1) Rote learning will not help you if you are trying to understand grammar. 2) She learned the equations by rote. 3) She learnt it parrot fashion (= she learnt it by rote = repeating it many times)
  • Learn to walk before you run – learn the basic skills before trying something more difficult: 1) Don’t get ahead of yourself. Learn to walk before you run. 2) I know you want to manage the whole team, but you are not ready yet. Learn to walk before you run.
  • Live and learnused, especially in spoken English, to acknowledge that a fact is new to you: 1) Can a smartphone do that? Well, live and learn. 2) I thought I could trust him, but I couldn’t. Oh well, live and learn (in this situation “live and learn” is used to say that the speaker has learned something unpleasant from experience).
  • A quick study – fast learner: I am a quick study.
  • A slow study – someone who learns something new slowly: I may be a slow study but I’m not unintelligent. I just take my time.
  • To be in a brown study (old-fashioned) – to absorbed in your thoughts: 1) Don’t disturb her. She’s in a brown study. 2) That’ll get you out of this brown study you’re in.


Note that study can be a noun, while learn is always a verb. Study as a noun:

This will be the summary course in the study of environmental issues. (study = examining)

I am interested in the study of English literature. (study = the act of learning)

How much time do you spend on your studies? (studies = studying)

If we clear out the spare room, you can use it as a study. That’ll get you out of this brown study you’re in. (study = the room in a house where one can work quietly)

In the idioms “quick study” and “slow study,” study means a person.

In our next post we’ll look at phrasal verbs for learning and studying. Don’t miss it! Thank you for reading.

One thought on “Learn vs. Study

  1. Thank you for sharing. An understanding of what “learning” is, sometimes the very word confuses. After many years, and I’m grateful for the jobs I had prior to finishing college. For when I return, I realized everything has a practical application. So, instead of learning, I sought to understand. For when one understands, one “sees” what is being taught, but also whether there is any merit or real information to be understood. So with some professors, I saw what they were sharing, then realizing there wasn’t much, understood that. But when I had more “thoughtful” professors, I engaged more. Either way, garnering As was far more easier when I understood understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

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