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Which sounds better:

  • learn to or learn how to?
  • teach to or teach how to?

I'll make the question clearer with examples.


a. He taught me to solve sums.
b. He taught me how to solve sums.


c. I learned to drive a car.
d. I learned how to drive a car.

5 Answers 5

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He taught me how to solve sums.

I would use this when discussing how a certain individual taught me how to add:

My favorite teacher was Mr. Olson in third grade. He taught me how to solve sums.


He taught me to solve sums.

I would use this when telling how a certain individual taught me when to add. I probably wouldn't use that sentence as a standalone sentence, but I might say something like:

My dad taught me how to keep my checkbook balanced. He taught me to solve sums on payday, and then to solve subtraction problems for the following two weeks.


I learned to drive a car.
I learned how to drive a car.

I would interpret these two as pretty much meaning the same thing, because the phrase learning to drive usually means "learning how to drive a car." However, the inclusion or exclusion of how can create a subtle shift in meaning, similar to the one I explained when talking about sums. Consider:

I learned to drive toward the middle of the fairway.
I learned how to drive toward the middle of the fairway.

The second sentence probably means I had a golf instructor teach me how to hit straight shot with my driver off the golf tee:

I used to hook my drives all the times, but then I started taking lessons. After a while, I learned how to drive toward the middle of the fairway.

In contrast, the first sentence might be used in the context of what experience has taught me:

Last summer, I would try to be sneaky on this hole and drive to the left, to get a shorter approach shot. But there are just too many bunkers over there. After about the third or fourth time I took a bogie from the sand, I learned to drive toward the middle of the fairway.

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Either can be used but one may be better depending on the larger context.

a. He taught me to solve sums.

This just means you were taught something in the past. Nothing else.

b. He taught me how to solve sums.

emphasizes the learning process, the steps or skills that were completed or learned.

I think either sounds OK.

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The shorter versions are more common in each case: Google Ngram here.

I often tell my students two possibly opposite things: 1) keep it short and simple, and 2) if in doubt, leave it in.

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I've always found the "I learned to drive" form, in the sense of "learned how to drive," to be irritatingly ambiguous. That phrase maybe not so much, but how about "I learned to use a jackknife"? If confronted by a hostile animal? Or did you learn how to open it, use its blades, etc.? I don't see any problem with adding "how," especially if the alternative is ambiguity, or if the context is unhelpful.

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I would suggest "learn to" if you had to manage to do it yourself.

I started college and did not know how to cook as my parents would often cook for me. I had to learn to cook on my own.

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