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studieren vs lernen

In English, “to study” means to learn, read, memorize, practice, and reflect on a subject. In German, the verb lernen is used to talk about these learning activities.

Wir lernen Deutsch.We are learning German. (i.e. as a general activity: taking a course or learning it on our own)We are studying German. (i.e. as a specific activity: doing homework, studying for a test)
Ich lerne für die Prüfung.I am studying for the test.

The German verb studieren has a more limited meaning than its English cognate. It means “to be a university student” or “to major in” a particular subject.

Karsten studiert an der Universität Frankfurt.Karsten is studying (is a student) at the University of Frankfurt.
Er studiert Chemie.He is studying (majoring in) chemistry.
Seine Schwester studiert in Dresden.His sister is studying (is a student) in Dresden.

The distinction between the two words also reflects a cultural difference. In the German educational system students are not required to take general education courses, a full range of courses outside of their field and major, to earn a degree. But a German university student may optionally take a course outside of the requirements out of interest.

Karsten studiert Chemie.Karsten is studying (majoring in) chemistry.
Er lernt auch Spanisch.He is learning (is taking a course in) Spanish.

Studieren can also mean “to examine something in detail”.

Stuttgart studiert die Kosten des Projekts.Stuttgart is studying (is examining, looking into in detail) the cost of the project.
12 comments on “studieren vs lernen
  1. sam zwenger says:

    Nice site man! Way to go!
    thanks sooo much

  2. Maggie says:


  3. ahmed says:

    Danke schön

    • Valia says:

      I just found this site! Is amazing man, really helpful and I think has all that on needs to learn Deutsch!! Thank you !

  4. Abdikhadar says:

    Danke sehr schön,
    Es ist sehr wichtig für mich und Alle die Deutsch lernen möchten.

  5. Claire Kaole says:

    Perfect that site I love it. I will recommend it to my students. Also for me it is so helpful because I am not a German. I went to one chapiter then move to the next and now I spend more than one hour. Great page!!! Thank you so much.

  6. pwaser says:

    Beautiful explanation. I’ve wanted to read this explanation for 12 years. Thanks so much!

  7. alsa says:

    So how should I say:

    “Today I studied for two hours”

    Heute habe Ich 2 stunden gelernt? Heute habe ich 2 stunden gestudiet?

  8. Alan Evangelista says:

    Very good explanation! The only odd thing is the description of “to study” in the introduction: ‘In English, “to study” means to learn, read, memorize, practice, and reflect on a subject.’

    “To study” does not mean “learn” in English, you cann study all day and learn nothing. It would be better to say ‘ “To study” means read, practice and reflect on a subject with the purpose of learning it ‘

  9. Andrew Monteiro says:

    Thank you so much!

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