What does ‘learn’ mean?

The word ‘learn’ can mean many different things. As a verb, it means to gain knowledge or a skill or to memorise.

For example:

  • I learnt to play the piano when I was 4. (gain knowledge or a skill)
  • The teacher wants us to learn 20 irregular verbs by tomorrow. (memorise)

Learn is an irregular verb in British English but a regular verb in American English. The past tense is learnt and the past participle is learnt. I’ll give you an example sentence of each tense:

  • Ella loves learning English, she learns a new phrasal verb every day. (present)
  • Callum was fined £300 for speeding, I hope he’s learnt his lesson. (past simple)
  • I have learnt how to make many new recipes during lockdown. (past participle)


There are more verbs that are irregular in British English but regular in American English…Do you want to learn them?

idioms list with ‘learn’

  • learn off by heart – memorise
    e.g. I need to learn my lines off by heart by Tuesday. We are having a dress rehearsal.
  • learn one’s lesson – learn through an unhappy/bad/painful experience
    e.g. The dog has learnt his lesson. He won’t pick a fight with a hedgehog again.
  • learn the hard way – learn by trying/experiences and making mistakes
    e.g. Having triplets is challenging. I learnt the hard way what having kids is like.
  • learn the ropes – learn the basic principles of a particular job/task/activity
    e.g. I’ve been learning the ropes from my dad, he’s a good teacher.
  • learn to live with something – accept and adapt to something unpleasant
    e.g. I’ve learnt to live with my husband’s snoring because I love him.
  • learning curve – the process of progressing, gaining experience and learning from mistakes
    e.g. Don’t be too hard on the apprentice, she’s at the beginning of a big learning curve.
  • live and learn – someone has survived and learnt from a bad/unpleasant experience
    e.g. I didn’t know I needed a heater for my tropical fish, you live and learn.

Let’s see these idioms with pictures and meaning using real-life scenarios.

verb phrases - learn
verb phrase - learn off by heart
Idioms with verbs - LEARN - learn one’s lesson
Idioms with verbs - LEARN - learn the hard way
learn idioms - learn the ropes
verb phrase - learn to live with something
learn idioms - learning curve
learn idioms - live and learn