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I am conflicted with the use of learned and taught in some sentences.

I understand that "teach" is to instruct someone or to pass on knowledge, and "Learn" is to gain knowledge from studying, experience, or being taught.

So for me, it makes sense that you use "teach" when someone or something is providing you (or someone else) with knowledge and "learn" when you (or someone else) receive knowledge from studying, someone teaching you, or your (their) experiences.

I am struggling to determine which word is more appropriate in the below setting: A person's experience in teaching Maths hasn't given him any knowledge for fatherhood.

Which sentence is more appropriate, and why?

  1. Being a Maths teacher hasn't learnt him anything about being a father.
  2. Being a Maths teacher hasn't taught him anything about being a father.

#1 seems correct according to the definition, but people tell me it is wrong. #2 seems incorrect according to the definition, but people tell me it is right.

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    Learn can only be used as a causative verb (as in 2, instead of teach) in certain regional and class dialects. Oct 25, 2021 at 17:30

2 Answers 2

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The second choice is idiomatic. You'd need to reorder the first for it to work: "He hasn't learnt anything about being a father from his being a Maths teacher." At that, it's not a very graceful sentence. "Being a Maths teacher" is the subject and the source of the learning being transmitted, which is why "taught" is the appropriate verb.

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  • 'He' is the subject; 'his being a maths teacher' is the prepositional complement of 'from'. What the principle nominal ('he' or 'his being a maths teacher' ... not 'a father') of the sentence is is debatable. Oct 25, 2021 at 13:31
  • "Subject" was a bad choice on my part; I was fumbling for "source" and "sink" terminology.
    – user888379
    Oct 25, 2021 at 16:24
  • And 'principle' was a bad choice on my part. 'Principal'. I was looking for a term I think they use in creative writing, lost somewhere in the recesses of my memory or imagined. Oct 25, 2021 at 16:31
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In modern standard American English the older form "learnt" is never used, it is a clear marker of an archaic (or British) text or of a dialectical form. The regular form "learned" is always used instead. The use of "learned" for taught is an even clearer marker of a dialectical form, one generally considered to be of low status.

Being a Maths teacher hasn't taught him anything about being a father.

would be readily understood and seem natural (although in AmE it would be "math" or "mathematics", never "maths"). One might think of that as personifying the role of "Being a Maths teacher" so that the role did (or in this case did not) teach him.

  • Being a Maths teacher taught him to listen patiently before jumping in with criticism.
  • Through being a Maths teacher he has learned to listen patiently before jumping in with criticism.

The meaning is the same, although with a slight difference of emphasis.

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