Lernen oder studieren? Let’s find out!

Following on to last month’s post Beibringen, lehren oder unterrichten? Let me teach you! today’s post is about the learners instead of the teachers.

What do we call the learners in German?

Unlike in English, not everybody is a student.


Those who go to school because they have to, (primary and secondary school), are pupils and not students.

  • der Schüler – male pupil
  • die Schülerin – female pupil
  • die Schüler – male pupils (also still used for mixed groups, but there is lots of talk about it)
  • die Schülerinnen – female pupils
  • die Schüler und Schülerinnen – male and female pupils


Only those who study at university are students, nobody else

  • der Student – male student
  • die Studentin – female student
  • die Studenten – male students (as above also mixed groups)
  • die Studentinnen – female students
  • die Studenten and Studentinnen – male and female students


As only students at university level are called students, they are the only ones that study instead of learn. So the verb you need to use is studieren.

  • Ich studiere – present tense
  • Ich habe studiert – perfect tense
  • Ich studierte – imperfect tense
  • Ich hatte studiert – pluperfect tense
  • Ich werde studieren – future I
  • Ich werde studiert haben – future II


Those who learn at school, are learning, not studying. So the verb is lernen.

  • Ich lerne – present tense
  • Ich habe gelernt – perfect tense
  • Ich lernte – imperfect tense
  • Ich hatte gelernt – pluperfect tense
  • Ich werde lernen – future I
  • Ich werde gelernt haben – future II

What about adult education?

  • Adults, who are learning at evening classes, with a tutor or on their own: lernen
  • Adults, who are mature students at uni: studieren

To recap:

  • Ich lerne Deutsch – I’m learning German at school, in adult education or on my own.
  • Ich studiere Deutsch – I’m studying German for a degree.


Just to really confuse you ☺
We also use ‘studieren’ when we scrutinise something, for example an IKEA instruction: Ich studiere die Montageanleitung von IKEA.

Or when we peruse something, like the newspaper: Ich studiere die Zeitung.

I hope you’ve studied my blog post enough to give Bart Simpson an answer ☺

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