учить vs. учиться

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by grande_illusion, Jul 26, 2009.

  1. grande_illusion Member

    Los Angeles
    English- U.S.

    I have a question about the distinctions between these two verbs. In my textbook it says that учить means "to teach" and its reflexive counterpart учиться means "to learn/to study." My confusion arises from the fact that recently while chatting with a Russian acquaintance on Skype I attempted to say that I'd started studying Russian in university a year ago, using the phrase учиться русский язык. However, he then corrected me, saying the proper way to say what I was trying to communicate would actually be учить русский, i.e. "Я начала учить русский год назад в университетe"

    Of course it's possible we had some miscommunication but I highly doubt anyone would mistake me for having the language competence to teach Russian at college level :)

    In any case, my question is essentially, was my textbook wrong? Is "учить" also used to say you're learning something, not teaching it? Or should I bypass the question all together by just saying "Я занимаюсь русском языком." :confused:
  2. elemika Senior Member

  3. I would like to add something more, namely my point of view on the question asked, although pretty much has already been said in the previous message.

    1) "Изучать русский язык" and "Учить русский язык" are rather similar to me although the former might mean that one is not only trying to master the language for some purpose but they also study its origin, development and other scientific aspects that are not usually needed in communication. Either phrase placed above requires the subject, i.e. the person who is learning the language.

    2) "Заниматься русским языком" is sometimes synonymous with both of the aforementioned Russian options but this phrase may also be connected with a native-speaker who wants to improve their writing or reading skills.

    The phrase you have suggested "учиться русский язык" is erroneous from the grammatical point of view and should be corrected to either "учить русский язык" or "заниматься русским языком". There are some more options possible but I have listed the most popular ones.
  4. Portal New Member

    English & Russian
    I'll add that the basic problem is that any reflexive verb (that is, a verb ending in -ся) is an intransitive verb, meaning that it cannot take a direct object. Therefore, "учиться русский язык" cannot work because "русский язык" is attempting to be the direct object on the verb. You can use "учиться" as long as you use it without a direct object (as one of the previous posters suggested in one of his or her examples.)
  5. Cleare Senior Member

    учить (что?) - учить слова, грамматику, текст
    учиться (где?) - в школе, в институте, в университете, на курсах
    изучать (что?) - изучать русский язык, математику, географию, литературу
    преподавать (кому?) - преподавать студентам
    преподавать (что?) - преподавать физику
    учить (кого?) - учить детей (чему?) физике, русскому языку

    ЭТо - основная грамматика (из учебника "русский язык" автор Московкин Л.В.)
    А дальше - контекст и то, что имеется в виду:
    1. Ваш пример с русским языком:
    корректно : Я начала ИЗУЧАТЬ русский год назад в университетe.

    дальше можно было бы добавить: я учу слова, правила, тексты наизусть, etc.

    Если Вы не добавляете место, где Вы учитесь, то есть "Я начала учить русский", предполагается, что Вы учите слова, правила, тексты наизусть. Но при этом дополнительные и иногда не менее важные предметы в университете, например, лингвистику, историю языка, технику перевода, etc., Вы не изучаете.

    2. Я занимаюсь русским языком - фраза предполагает, что Вы тратите время на русский язык. (Я занимаюсь математикой, стиркой, мытьём окон, etc.)

    Hope that helps!
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
  6. Cleare Senior Member

    учить (что?) - учить слова, etc. - learn
    учиться (где?) - в школе, в институте, в университете, на курсах - study
    изучать (что?) - изучать русский язык, математику, географию, литературу - study
    преподавать (кому?) - преподавать студентам - teach students
    преподавать (что?) - преподавать физику - teach physics
    учить (кого?) - учить детей (чему?) физике, русскому языку - teach physics to children
  7. palomnik Senior Member

    All of the above discussion about verbs for teaching and learning are true, and not being a native speaker I can't improve on them, but I understand your confusion.

    The basic problem you have, and you will see if you read the other posts carefully, is that учить can mean both "to teach" and "to learn".

    When it means "to teach", it is followed by the accusative case to indicate who is being taught, and by the dative case to indicate what is being taught.

    When it means "to learn", it is followed by the accusative case to indicate what is being learned.

    By way of comparison, учиться can only mean "to learn" (or perhaps better "to study", but then you run into the differences in meaning with Заниматься) and it is followed by the dative case to indicate what is being studied.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2009
  8. grande_illusion Member

    Los Angeles
    English- U.S.
    Thanks everyone for the input! I think I grasp the difference now much better than when they attempted to explain in my textbook.

    In retrospect, trying to assign a direct object to a reflexive verb seems quite silly!

    And indeed palomnik it is very difficult for a non-native speaker! All the examples above plus your breakdown between using acc. for who vs. acc. for what clear up most of my confusion.
  9. mabimabi Senior Member

    I'm very interested in this discussion. I'm wondering why it would be wrong to write:
    "Я начала изучать русского языка в университете год назад." instead of "Я начала изучение русского языка в университете год назад."

    And one more thing please, I wanted to say this sentence yesterday: "I learnt some Russian in Uzbekistan last year". I didn't take any lessons, I just read a phrasal book and speak a lot. Which verb shall I use? I can't tell which one. Thank you.
  10. Budspok Senior Member

    Lübertsy, Russian Federation
    "Я начала изучать русский язык в университете год назад" is quite all right. “Я начала изучение русского языка в университете год назад” sounds too official, although grammatically it is correct.

    Я немного выучил(-а) русский в Узбекистане в прошлом году.
  11. Sobakus Senior Member

    The verb изучать governs the Accusative, which turns to the Genetive in your second sentence because you can't follow a verbal noun with the Accusative. However, if the verb governs the Dative, the verbal noun does too: обучать языку - обучение языку.

    As for the second question, I would say учить/поучить + Acc.
  12. rushalaim

    rushalaim Senior Member

    Пытался сдать экзамен на гражданство в одной стране. Но от волнения перепутал вот это самое дурацкое слово на их языке и сказал: "Я учил в школе номер..." вместо "Учился в школе номер... ". Меня конечно срезали. Из страны выперли. Мораль: детали - важны. :)
  13. Maroseika Moderator

    Because язык is unanimate noun, cf.:

    Ученый начал изучать этого паука еще 15 лет назад.
    Я начал изучать русский язык год назад.

    The verb изучать governs the nouns in Acc., which form are different for animate and unanimate nouns.
  14. anialuo Senior Member

    Mod note: [threads with the same topic merged for better searchability]

    Hi, I've been wondering about the usage of учить and учиться. I know the second one is a reflexive verb, we have such verbs in Polish, too. Maybe just because of my "Polish thinking" I got confused about the two verbs :)
    My question is: I can say я учу русский язык, but it seems я учусь русский язык is incorrect. (In Polish we'd use the reflexive verb...) When can I use the verb учиться then?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2015
  15. Garbuz Senior Member

    Я учусь русскому языку. Хотя мне это немного режет слух. Я учу русский язык - более привычно.

    Я учусь резьбе по дереву. Я учусь рисовать.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  16. Sobakus Senior Member

    Take a look at this thread. There are more if you search for "учиться".
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
  17. anialuo Senior Member

    I'm having the same problem with these two verbs:)
    учиться is a reflexive verb, but it still takes a direct object as in уситься русскому языку... What's the difference between the sentence and я учу русский язык then?
  18. anialuo Senior Member

    Oh, thanks a lot, I haven't noticed the thread:)
  19. Sobakus Senior Member

    A direct object is an object in the Accusative. In учиться русскому языку, the object is in the Dative, which means it's indirect. In учить детей русскому языку, детей is the direct object and русскому языку is the indirect one. In рассказать детям о русском языке, both objects are indirect. You can think of the reflexive particle -ся as direct object, which explains why reflexive verbs can't take another direct object. By the way, as far as I understand it's the same in Polish, with uczyć się requiring the Genitive.
  20. anialuo Senior Member

    Sobakus, thank you for the explanation, I indeed confused direct and indirect object here.
    You are right, in Polish, uczyć się requires an indirect object in the Genitive, but there is still "uczyć "meaning only to teach in Polish.
    I think I understand the difference between these two verbs in Russian now:) Thanks!
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015

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