I know what the expression "learn by heart" means, but I have just discovered that there's also "learn by hard", and I was wondering if this expression was just misspelled or if it is really used, and if it has the same meaning of "learn by heart".

Specifically, the context was the following:

You should know the definition of a vector space by hard.

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    I have never heard somebody say "learn by hard."
    – DJMcMayhem
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 18:52
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    Native speaker in the United States. I have never heard "learn by hard" and I am not sure what it would mean.
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 19:00
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    In the specific context given, it definitely should be "by heart".
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 20:14
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    @DamkerngT. The asker hasn't made it completely clear whether this was heard or read ('misspelled' not withstanding), but since the alleged misspelling resulted in a real word that could plausibly be part of a real phrase this seems very on-topic. I found a few other forums where this same question was asked, apparently by different people, indicating that it's a question others may have.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 4:02
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    RE: There's a lot of debate on the web if "learn by hard" is just a typo or a misspelling or not, that's why I asked. Had you been more clear about that when you asked your question (perhaps even showing places where you've seen both, and even linked to one of these "debates"), then much of this discussion could have been averted. Instead, you only provided scant details your question, and therefore ended up clarifying in a long discussion beneath your question. This is exactly why we ask for details, please.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 14:51

2 Answers 2


No, "learn by hard" is not a stock phrase in English, and it's not clear to native speakers what is meant.

I believe most who hear this will assume that either they misheard or the speaker misspoke, and that the intended phrase was "learn by heart". Depending on a speaker's accent and tone of voice and the listener's ear, 'hard' and 'heart' may sound extremely similar. 'Heart' is generally pronounced more like 'hart', and a 't' and a 'd' may be difficult to discern at the end of a word.

A Google search for the phrase "learn by hard" finds a few places where someone asks if this is a phrase and are told that "learn by heart" is meant, and a few other hits where it is part of a larger expression, such as "learn by hard work" or "learn by hard experience".

I would assume that either you misheard, or that someone is guilty of a typo.

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    @pazzo Is that a typo? "Learn by heard" doesn't make sense, either. "Hard" could be misheard for "heart" simply because in some accents (typically American ones), they sound very similar. What other reason could there be? Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 21:23
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    @DavidRicherby It's not so much that being used to an accent like yours that will make an accent like mine sound ambiguous; it is rather being unfamiliar with an accent like mine (it's possible to be familiar with both, that is). I mainly wanted to point out that "sounding very similar" is very subjective.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:12
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    @DavidRicherby I would also add that the terminal consonants of "hard" and "heart" in most if not all American accents are decidedly not identical; they're just difficult to hear in some contexts or when spoken by some speakers. I don't think anyone would be likely to mishear "hard knocks" as "heart knocks," even if many would miss the distinction between a "hard attack" and a "heart attack."
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:21
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    @DavidRicherby you're welcome. I just remembered an amusing incident when an American colleague of mine illustrated some difficult task by likening it to "herding cats"; two colleagues, one Dutch and the other Irish, heard "hurting cats"!
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 12:20
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    The English idiom that does use "hard" in reference to learning is: "learn (it) the hard way" Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 10:02

You probably heard the "d" sound which misled you. The correct way to say it is: "I learned it by heart." It should not be shortened to anything else. Here's an example:

Carol of the Bells is my favorite song. I loved it so much when I first heard it that I found the sheet music and learned it by heart when I was ten years old. Would you like to hear it?

There is also "know it by heart." Here's an example:

The show is on Friday. We need to be ready for a dress rehearsal by Tuesday.
Reply: We are ready now. We know it by heart.

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