Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of August 29, 1997
Teach and Learn

These verbs are sometimes confused by on-native speakers. In the "borrow" and "loan" lesson, the person who has the desired goods is the loaner, the person who wants the desired thing is the borrower. Here, the teacher is the one who already knows the information, the learner the one who recieves the information.

Remember the relationship to the active person in your sentence (noun), the information that is being taught or learned (direct object), and the person who is receiving or giving the information (indirect object). Therefore:

M. Tapis taught me French. NOUN, VERB, IND.OBJ., DIR.OBJ.
I learned French from M. Tapis. NOUN, VERB, DIR.OBJ, IND.OBJ.
I don't want to learn business ethics from M. Tapis. NOUN,VERB,DIR.OBJ,IND.OBJ.

Here's some for you to try.

1. I learned physics from Prof. Benoit.
2. Prof. Benoit teaches physics to the students.

Are both verbs possible in the following?

3. I __________ physics at EPFL. YES
4. I _________ myself Windows 95. NO
5. I __________ it all by myself. YES

While you are correct to write: "I teach physics at EPFL", "I learn physics at EPFL", "I learn it all by myself", "I teach it all by myself", or "I teach myself Windows 95", you may not write "I learn myself Windows 95." This latter sentence implies that the subject (I) is both the teacher and the learner, which makes no sense. If the subject already knew Windows 95, there would be no reason to learn it. In "I teach myself Windows 95", one has the impresssion that the learner (myself) is making use of a help file or trial-and-error, so this sentence is OK.

Interestingly, one CAN write "I learn Win95 by myself." or better, "I am learning Win95 by myself", and this is equivalent to "I teach myself Win95." This small change in structure, from "myself = reflexive object" to "by myself = prepositional phrase", shifts the emphasis to the idea that the subject is alone in his or her pursuit of Win95 knowledge, that is, is not requesting any outside assistance.

There once was a fly on the wall
I wonder why it didn't fall
Because its feet stuck
Or was it just luck
Or does gravity miss things so small?

--R.D. Cowan

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Created May 12, 1998, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.