Grammar Slammer
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What’s the difference between teach and learn?

English is peppered with confusing verb pairs. So how do you know which word to use?

We were asked recently to explain the difference between teach and learn. So, here’s a quick and simple explanation, plus a few similar verb pairs.

Teachers teach and students learn. Banks both borrow and loan. And we all come and go. These verb pairs are all linked by one common theme – movement.

Teach and learn
These two verbs deal with the movement of information. When you teach you give out information. And the person receiving that information learns (if they remember it).

When you teach the information moves away from you; and when you learn it moves towards you. Here are some examples:

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  • My mother taught me the difference between right and wrong.
  • We learnt many good things from our customers at the conference.
  • I’ll teach you a lesson.
  • My teacher tries and tries, but I never seem to learn.


Lend and borrow
In this case, the verbs deal with the movement of objects or money. If I give money to someone temporarily, I lend it to them. And as the receiver of the money, they borrow it.

When you lend, the money or object moves away from you; and when you borrow, the money or object moves towards you. Here are some examples:

  • My bank lent me the money to buy a car.
  • I borrowed five euros from my brother, and I have to give it back next week.
  • The company will borrow EUR 27 million to finance the deal.
  • I will loan you my bike tomorrow.


Come and go
This pair is a little more confusing, as there are a few exceptions, especially in spoken English. But as a general rule, the difference is related to the movement to or away from the speaker. So, let’s say I’m at home. I then go to work, but ask the plumber to come to my house.

Go is used to movement away from the speaker; and come is used for movement towards the speaker. Here are some examples:

  • I don’t want to go to Norway. (The speaker is not in Norway.)
  • If you don’t come home this instant, there’ll be trouble. (The speaker is at home, the listener is not.)
  • Come here, Spot. (The dog is some distance away from the speaker.)
  • Go fetch that stick, boy. (The stick is some distance away from the speaker. It doesn’t matter where the dog is.)

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