Russian Language Blog

Let’s Learn the Learning Verbs Posted by on Nov 22, 2011 in language

Well, I think it’s finally autumn. For a while, the weather was quite warm, but recently, whenever I walk outside, «мне холодно» [I am cold]. This means I have to wear my «пальто, сапоги, и шапка» [coat, boots, and hat]. And I try not to forget «перчатки» [gloves] either! In the photo: birches near Novosibirsk in autumn. Do you know how to say “birch” in Russian?

The learning verbs in Russian are very, very complicated. I’m in an advanced Russian class and we just went over them, so I thought I would post a little bit about these verbs, including some example sentences, so you can see how they are used.

«Учиться» means to learn and is usually used with general knowledge, such as «учиться писать» [to learn to write] or «учиться музыке» [to learn music]. If you learn from someone specific, use «у кого», such as «Я учился терпению у отца» [I learned patience from my father]. This is the verb you usually use when saying that you study at school or university: «Я учусь в университете» [I study at university]. You can also be more specific and say «Я учусь в МГУ» [I study at MGU (Moscow State University)].

By contrast, if you want to say that you study something specific, one of the verbs you can use is «изучать». You usually use a specific field with «изучать», such as: «историю, английский язык, физику» [history, English language, physics]. The imperfective of this verb is «изучить» and has a slightly different meaning: it means that you have mastered whatever it is that you are studying, whereas «изучать» does not imply that.

«Заниматься» is sort of like «изучать» in that you can use it to say that you study a certain field, but it is not always used in the same way. When people ask me what I study at university, they can say: «Чем ты занимаешься?» [What do you study?] and I answer: «Я занимаюсь историей и русским языком» [I study history and Russian language]. «Заниматься» can also be used in more of a general study sense, such as: «Я занимаюсь обычно дома» [I usually study at home].

I hope this provides somewhat of an introduction to the learning verbs. I have not covered everything by far, but hopefully this is somewhere to get you started.

Questions? Comments? Let me know below!

By the way: birch in Russian is «берёза», in case you were wondering.

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About the Author: Natalie

I'm Natalie and I love the Russian language and sharing my knowledge with others. I graduated from university with a dual degree in Russian language & literature and history.


  1. cláudio roberto:

    and besides “учиться” there’s “учить”, meaning “to teach”, right?

  2. David:

    I also understood Заниматься to mean something on the order of, to be occupied with. So I could use it in connection with a hobby or pastime. Am I right about that?

  3. Delia:

    This is a very nice post and very explanatory. For the beginners, however, to make things easier, I would recommend the following explanation of the basics:
    учиться = to go to school (Я учусь в Москве. Я учусь в Московском университете)
    изучать = to study (takes Direct Object)
    (Я изучаю математику и русский язык)
    заниматься = to do homework (Я занимаюсь вечером в общежитии)

  4. Delia:

    David: yes, you can apply заниматься basically to any hobby or occupation. Я занимаюсь кораблестроением, подводным плаванием, вязанием… I am in shipbuilding; I am in/like scuba diving. I do/like (My hobby is) knitting. Use Instrumental after заниматься.

  5. Ryan:

    Surely you meant to say that «изучить» is a perfective?

  6. Катя:

    Изучить is perfective, not imperfective. Otherwise, nice post.

  7. Minority:

    More phrases about learning or studying:

    Выполнять/делать домашнее задание – doing (making?) homework
    Решать задачу – solving the task
    Готовиться к экзаменам – ? preparing to exams.