The Four Russian Verbs ‘to Study’ that You Need to Know
So you’re studying Russian—congratulations. But that could mean a lot of things. Do you study the Russian language at university? Are you studying Russian in the library right now? Or do you just learn vocab in your free time? The English verb ‘to study’ can be translated into at least four different verbs in Russian, reflecting all these different meanings. And while that seems daunting at first, once you’ve got to grips with them, you’ll be able to speak more specifically than is possible in English. So without further ado, here are the four verbs you need to know:
учи́ть / выучи́ть + accusative noun
This is probably the verb you’re going to need at the start of your Russian-learning journey. It refers to learning specific and limited things—such as words, phrases and grammar rules. It can also be used for languages generally, but refers to a course of study that is limited to vocabulary and conversation rather than in-depth linguistic research.
Я учу́ русский. – I study/learn Russian.
In the perfective—which you can read about here—’выучи́ть’ is often translated as ‘to memorize’.
Она́ выучи́ла все сло́ва. – She memorized all the words.
Careful! The verb учи́ть also means ‘to teach’. In this case, it is followed by the person/group being taught as an accusative noun, and the thing being taught as a dative noun or infinitive verb. The perfective form used for this meaning is научи́ть.
Она́ у́чит меня́ англи́йскому языку́. – She teaches me English.
Он хоте́л про́сто научи́ть тебя́ рыба́чить. – He just wants to teach you how to fish.
изуча́ть / изучи́ть + accusative noun
But what if you’re studying Russian at university? Or full-time at a language centre? For this kind of intense, formal and systematic study, we can use the verb изуча́ть.
Он реши́л изуча́ть ру́сский язы́к в университе́те. – He decided to study Russian at the university.
This verb can also be used in non-academic contexts, when somebody undertakes a deep and systematic study of something
Прави́тельство изуча́ет но́вый докла́д. – The government is studying the new report.
учи́ться + locative preposition (imperfective only)
If you want to express that you’re studying at an institution, you can use this verb, which is the reflective version of учи́ть. It is used to answer the question “Where do you study?”.
Я учу́сь в Оксфо́рдском университе́те. – I am a student at Oxford University.
If used with an infinitive verb, ‘учи́ться’ also means ‘to learn how to do something’ (and this can be used in the perfective ‘научи́ться’ too).
Де́ти бы́стро уча́тся ходи́ть и говори́ть. – Children quickly learn to walk and speak.
занима́ться / заня́ться (+ optional instrumental noun)
Another possibility is that you’re studying right now—doing homework in the library or exercises on your bedroom desk. For this kind of study, we need to stress the immediacy of the work we are doing. The verb занима́ться is the best for this—a verb which also means ‘to be occupied with’. It can be used alone, or with an instrumental noun to specify the object of study.
Я занима́юсь в библиоте́ке. – I’m studying in the library.
Он занима́ется ру́сским. – He is studying Russian.
So there you have it—with these four Russian verbs ‘to study’ you’ll be able to discuss your learning efforts in whatever context necessary. Just don’t forget to take a break! For more language tips, make sure you check out the Liden & Denz blog.
Luke is a history and languages student interning at Liden & Denz, Riga.