Both these verbs return the meaning to learn or to study when entered in Google Translate, However, my German Language tutor had advised me to use "lernen" when referring to school and "studieren" when referring to university. Please verify whether this is accurate or not.

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    Studieren has two meanings, see for example collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/german-english/studieren
    – RHa
    Commented May 21 at 6:46
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    @RHa At second thought: Isn't that exactly the same in English? I can study civil engineering but I can also study the train schedule; usually, I wouldn't do the latter in college. Commented May 21 at 16:35
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    When I enter the verbs in google translate, they return the exact English equivalents (studieren -> study; lernen -> learn). The English verbs are quite equivalent to their German counterparts, aren't they? (Learn is sometimes used in different contexts, like "he learned that his wife was cheating on him". That would be translated as "erfahren", but that does not seem to be your question.) Commented May 21 at 16:40
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    Presumably this is like the English words "study" and "learn". Just because you study doesn't mean you learn. You can study all you want and hopefully you'll learn something but for difficult subjects you may study a lot and learn very little. I don't think much of your teacher if they didn't realise the completely different meanings of these two words. Study is the act of putting effort in to read texts and possibly perform experiments. Learning is the resulting knowledge and understanding that you gain (both verb and noun). Go and explain it to your teacher.
    – NeilG
    Commented May 22 at 4:22
  • @RHa Are you seriously just asking the guy to go look up a dictionary? As if the OP does not already know how to do that? Commented May 22 at 9:06

2 Answers 2


It's more complicated.

Anke studiert Mathe.

Anke is enrolled in the Mathematics program of a university.

Anke lernt Mathe.

Anke took her math book out, she reads it, and does some exercises. Either in university or school or for fun.

Those are the cases your teacher meant. There are however more:

Anke studiert die Zeitung.

Anke reads the newspaper thoroughly.

Anke lernt Pferdewirtin.

Anke is an apprentice at a stud so she learns everything about how to breed horses.

So there's a difference between more theoretical studies at a university and more practical studies at a company. The latter is called die Lehre in German, or alternatively die Ausbildung, and whoever attends that isn't a Student (that's for university only) but a Lehrling or Auszubildender.

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    It might be worth noticing that "Student" means "student" and "Lehrling/Auszubildender" means "apprentice".
    – bakunin
    Commented May 21 at 13:38
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    Very important information that "studieren" as well as "lernen" are essentially homonyms (even though "being a university student" and "thoroughly examining something" are, obviously, related, as is "being an apprentice/pick up knowledge"). Commented May 21 at 16:30
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    It's worth noting that "lernen" can have an ergative meaning where "studieren" cannot (and which "lernen" also doesn't have in the first example): "Ich habe gelernt, mir die Schnürsenkel zu binden." means that I've mastered tying my shoe laces. "Ich habe studiert, wie man sich die Schnürsenkel bindet" would mean ("studieren" in the "examine thoroughly" meaning here), that I spent some time on learning it and, left at that, imply that I didn't succeed. Commented May 23 at 5:32

"Lernen" would mean to learn something. You could learn something at a university as well(presumably). It is just used more generally, often convey that you have acquired some knowledge or gained an understanding of something.

However, "studieren" is specific to formal academic studies at a university level. It implies being enrolled(to be a student of) in a program and working towards a degree in a particular subject. "Studieren" would involve more formal research into the subject as well, that often comes with pursuing an University degree.

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    Wrt formal research into a subject: a researcher studies a problem in English (generating entirely new knowledge, as opposed to reading up on the topic) -> in German, the verb would rather be untersuchen (investigate). Commented May 22 at 5:16
  • Oh alright, thanks for pointing it out.
    – Ronith
    Commented May 22 at 5:50

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