Japanese grammar: to study and to learn

Japanese Grammar: How to Differentiate “to Study” and “to Learn” in Japanese

  • August 28, 2017 / Lily Cernak

This is the continuation of our series of articles on Japanese grammar.  We have talked about differentiating between Japanese words that appear similar but are different in usage: This time, we will be discussing the various verbs that are used to meanto study or to learn.

Related articles:

If you want to learn the difference between する suru and やる yaru, click here!

Interested to learn about words for linking phrases and sentences? Click here!

Do you know the difference between 言う iu, 話す hanasu, 喋る shaberu, and 語る kataru? If not, click here!

Japanese Grammar: How to Differentiate “To Study” and “To Learn” in Japanese


benkyou suru is a “to study” verb, and is often the first of the “study/learn” verbs taught in Japanese textbooks. It is the verb most commonly used in contexts such as the following:

1. I’m studying right now (今勉強しています ima benkyou shiteimasu)
2. Because I have a test tomorrow, I have to study (明日はテストがあるから、勉強しなくてはいけません ashita wa test ga aru kara, benkyou shinakute wa ikemasen).

You can detach 勉強 benkyou from する suru and use it as just a noun. One of the most commonly used phrases with 勉強 benkyou as a noun is 勉強になりました! Benkyou ni narimashita!. It is similar to the English “I learned something new!

This phrase does not necessarily need to be in the context of studying. It often carries a nuance of pleasure or gratitude when used after the person you are speaking to has explained how to do something or given you information that you did not know.


学ぶ manabu is one of the “to learn” verbs. It is one of the most useful of the “to learn” verbs because it is one of the most general.

It correlates closely to the English “to learn” in that it has very few restrictions in meaning. You can 学ぶ manabu at school or at home, by yourself or with other people. You can also use it in both scholarly and completely non-scholarly situations.

For example:


Kyou wa gakkou de, kaeru ni tsuite manabimashita.

Today at school, we learned about frogs.



Nagai tabi o shite, ippai manade kimashita.

I went on a long journey, and learned many things.


Like 学ぶ manabu, 習う narau is also a “to learn” verb. The primary difference between 習う narau and the two verbs above (勉強する benkyou suru and 学ぶ manabu) is that you cannot 習う narau all by yourself.  This is aside from the fact that 勉強する benkyou suru has more of a nuance of “study” than “learn”. 

The person you 習う narau from does not have to be a teacher.  And the context does not need to be school (you can 習う narau from a friend at home, or you can 習う narau from a boss or a coworker, etc). 

But there must be a person in the position of “instructor” (however informal) for you to 習う narau.

For example:


Tomodachi ni cupcake no tsukurikata o naraimashita.

I learned how to make cupcakes from my friend.


You can also use から kara rather than ni in this type of sentence. Doing so does not change the meaning:


Tomodachi kara cupcake no tsukurikata o naraimashita.


教わる osowaru is another “to teach” verb, and is fairly interchangeable with 習う narau. Both of these verbs must have an instructor of some kind. And you cannot use it to describe studying or learning by oneself.

For example:


Tomodachi ni cupcake no tsukurikata o osowarimashita.

I learned how to make cupcakes from my friend.

Similarly to 習う narau, you can use から kara in place of ni in this sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.


教わる osowaru uses the same kanji as the verb 教える oshieru, which is “to teach” or “to inform.” Bear in mind that although 教わる osowaru may seem as though it is a conjugation of 教える oshieru, the two are actually separate verbs.


The meaning of 学習する gakushuu suru is a sort of combination of “to learn” and “to study.” It can be a fairly straightforward “to study” similar to 勉強する benkyou suru, and it can be a fairly vague “to learn” similar to 学ぶ manabu.

It is usable both when learning by oneself or from a teacher. 学習する gakushuu suru is used with regard to both academic and non-academic learning.

One feature of 学習する gakushuu suru is that it is often used to describe learning acquired through gradual experience, or through trial and error.

For example:


Kanojo wa gakushuu shite, piano o jouzu ni hikeru you ni narimashita.

She studied/practiced piano and became able to play skillfully.

学習 gakushuu as a noun is often attached to the name of a subject to mean “___ studies.”

For example:

Kawakawa Learning Studioというサイトは、日本語学習に役に立ちます。

Kawakawa Learning Studio toiu saito wa, nihongo gakushuu ni yaku ni tachimasu.

The website called Kawakawa Learning Studio is helpful for studying/learning Japanese.

There are also several other useful words that include “gakushuu” as a noun, such as:

  1. 学習者 gakushuusha learner or student
  2. 学習机 gakushuuzukue studying desk  


独学する dokugaku suru is the last and perhaps the most specific of our “study/learn” words. It means “to do alone learning” and it describes self-study.

独学 dokugaku can be a する suru verb, but is often used as a noun paired with the particle de plus 勉強する benkyou suru instead.

For example:


Doitsugo no kurasu o uketa koto ga aru kedo, ima wa dokugaku shite imasu.

(I have taken German classes, but right now I am doing self-study).


Doitsugo no kurasu o uketa koto ga aru kedo, ima wa dokugaku de benkyou shite imasu.

I have taken German classes, but right now I am studying by means of self-learning.

And that covers pretty much all of the common Japanese “study/learn” verbs!

One final note:

Most of these words presented in this article (including 学習する gakushuu suru, and with the exceptions of 勉強する benkyou suru and 独学する dokugaku suru) are used to describe animals as well as people. So your dog can 習う narau) from you to sit on command!

If there are any verbs we did not include in this list that you are curious about usage or grammatical structure for, leave us a comment and we’ll include them in a future article!



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