This question about when to choose the word work or study:

Situation 1:

Adam: "Hey, are you up to going out?"

Jamie : "Well I wish but I can't. Sorry. Since I have to finish and hand in my project by Monday, I have to study/work for the next few days. Thank you, though."

Situation 2:

Jamie's Mother: "Thank you for coming, aunt Beth."

Aunt Beth: "It is nice to see you again. So where is Jamie? I haven't seen him for ages. He must be a man now."

Jamie's Mother: "Well Jamie is not at home. He went to Boston. He is studying medicine."

Probably we can use the word work in the Situation 1, but for me when I say "I am working" it sounds like I am using my body more than my brain. A professor could be working in his/her room I think but it sounds more professional again for me.

So my question is that if both conversations are ok and if we use the word work Would there be a difference in terms of meaning?

  • 1
    I'd say, in these contexts, where the person you are speaking to knows your situation, 'study' implies reading/learning, 'work' implies writing that learning down, for a paper etc; but it's a vague difference. First example, I'd say 'work', second 'study'. (Apart from anything else, you can't 'work medicine';) Nov 23, 2014 at 17:09
  • @ Tetsujin thank you! So in the nutshell, when someone asked literally what I am doing right now , we can say either " I am working " or " I am studying " in order to imply that I am spending my time with books related to university..And when we want to talk about the subject we chose at university we can say " I am studying medicine or finance/history " etc.
    – Mrt
    Nov 23, 2014 at 21:36
  • Generally, I'd say, if you are at university you are studying a subject, though right now you might be working on a paper. [One addition just to add to the confusion... in a UK uni, you may be said to be 'reading' a subject, rather than studying. Nov 24, 2014 at 17:38

3 Answers 3


To me, studying implies that you are learning something new. It's usually used in an academic context:

Sorry I can't go out; I need to study for a test next week.
Bill is going to Oxford next year where he will study history.
The zoologist spent 8 years studying insects before she wrote that paper.

but it can also be used when conducting some sort of analysis:

We will be studying the safety habits of our factory workers to see if we can't cut down on injuries next year.

Work can imply physical work, as you mention, but it can also be used when describing any kind of mental exertion:

It took a lot of work to solve last week's crossword puzzle!
I'll be working on my term paper, so I can't go out with you guys tonight.
I'm working on coming up with some fun ideas for the baby shower.

In short, work is a very general term, which study seems more narrowly focused.

As to Jamie's quote:

I have to finish and hand in my project by Monday, so I have to study/work for the next few days.

I think work is the best word if Jamie pretty much knows what to do already, and it's just a matter of doing the work. For example, if Jamie is writing a computer program, or a term paper, or painting something for an art class, that's generally work.

However, if the project is a matter of answering 10 short answer questions, but Jamie will need to do a lot of research in order to answer those questions, then the word study might be appropriate.

  • @ J.R. Thank you a lot for the answer and taking my question to the next level which is good and illuminated me and by the way it has just come to my mind that I think it is called " to revise" to study before exams..we can simlpy say " I'm revising Geography today" or " I can't come out tonight. I have to revise" but can we say " I am working on Geography ( for the exam ) " or " I am studying for the exam "
    – Mrt
    Nov 23, 2014 at 22:05
  • 1
    The word revise means change or alter, not study. You might be thinking of review.
    – J.R.
    Nov 23, 2014 at 23:30
  • I think it is said in this sense only in the UK.How about my sentences above [ can we say " I am working on Geography ( for the exam ) " or " I am studying for the exam " ]
    – Mrt
    Nov 23, 2014 at 23:38
  • RE: I think it is said in this sense only in the UK... You're right – see meaning #4. That's awesome; you taught me something today! (By the way, as for "I am working on Geography," or, "I am studying for the exam," you can say either one of those, but I think studying sounds more natural to me.)
    – J.R.
    Nov 24, 2014 at 0:00
  • I am happy that I am able to give something back to the site.Actually I'm a bit suprised to hear that you didn't know that though.and do you know what the Brits say for "thank you" in casual way? cheers:)
    – Mrt
    Nov 24, 2014 at 18:40

I usually use "I will be working on it" in a context with word "project". It can be applied to "Situation 1".


Studying may require work or effort, but when you say "I am working this weekend" or "I have to work this weekend.", it commonly means that you are going to do your profession or job. If you explain what you're working on, it's OK to use it for something other than going to a job.

These two sentences are similar

I have to study this weekend.
I have to work on my project this weekend.

These two sentences imply you have to go do a job that you're getting paid to do.

I have to work this weekend.
I have to work at the coffee shop this weekend.

In your second situation, I don't understand where or how you would like to use the word work.

  • @ ColleenV Thank you for answer! It is very helpful but can I ask something else by giving another example..when somebody asked " what are you doing " - for example on the phone and when you replied just " I am working " , maybe it is not vague for your close college friend who already knows that you don't have a job and you implying "I am studying " ? Am I right? can I ask that if we can reply like " I am studying now " or " I am working my lesson /studies " ? or the word studying is something to do with implying that you are at college?
    – Mrt
    Nov 23, 2014 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Murat The context of the conversation is always important, so if your college friend called you at home and you said "I'm working" he or she would likely understand that you meant working on your studies. Studying in one sense, like in your first situation, just means learning through your own effort or work. In situation 2 you use a different sense of studying. "I am studying some field" means most commonly to work toward a degree at a college or university.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 23, 2014 at 15:16

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