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.

  • 2
    Oops, seems like I didn't look in the correct place, sorry! And indeed appears to be a misspelling. I had never heard of learn by hard before, while I do use the phrase learn by heart myself. – Sander Jun 1 '15 at 18:52
  • 4
    I have never heard somebody say "learn by hard." – DJMcMayhem Jun 1 '15 at 18:52
  • 5
    Native speaker in the United States. I have never heard "learn by hard" and I am not sure what it would mean. – Adam Jun 1 '15 at 19:00
  • 3
    In the specific context given, it definitely should be "by heart". – Kevin Jun 1 '15 at 20:14
  • 4
    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. Jun 2 '15 at 14:51

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.

  • 2
    @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? – David Richerby Jun 1 '15 at 21:23
  • 1
    @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 Jun 2 '15 at 8:12
  • 2
    @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 Jun 2 '15 at 8:21
  • 1
    @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 Jun 2 '15 at 12:20
  • 2
    The English idiom that does use "hard" in reference to learning is: "learn (it) the hard way" – Brian Hitchcock Jun 3 '15 at 10:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.