What exactly is the difference between "learn how to do" and "learn to do" in their meanings?
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OK, what about this one?

He learned to like cats.

Is it possible to replace "learned to like" with "learned how to like"?
Yes, although I prefer 'to like' because it's the end result.

But do you think you can learn to like cats without learning how to like cats?
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I've been thinking about this a bit more.
My original response was based on your query about the words 'learn to do' where I thought you were asking specifically about the verb 'to do', not any and all verbs as our examples are getting into.

It does sound uncommon with a verb such as 'like', to say 'I learned how to like cats'. But not impossible. If you said that, I would consider it acceptable and interpret it in the way I indicated,as oriented more to the method.
I note that we do say, often, 'How do you like cats?'

I think common usage and possible meaning are not always the same thing, and you were asking about meaning.

I'm not sure if this kind of comment is helpful or confusing to you. I hope the former.

Sorry. Could you parahrase this part? And grammatically, is it included in "where" clause?
not any and all verbs as our examples are getting into. "

I note that we do say, often, 'How do you like cats?'

When you say "How do you like cats?", are you really asking a method? I think you are asking about the degree of your liking, and that's why "learn how to like cats" sounds weird.
In answer to your last queries -
when I said "not any and all verbs as our examples are getting into", what I meant was that I thought your original query was about the verb 'to do', not for example the verb 'to dance'.
(and yes, my words were included in the "where" clause).

Here is my current thinking about your original query.
Your original question was about meaning, and that's how I answered, in terms of 'method' and 'result'.
You asked, and I was thinking of, 'to do' ie a verb of action.
That's still my opinion. I see very little difference between
(a ) learning how to paint.
(b ) learning to paint.
We say b very commonly. It doesn't seem at all weird.

Yes, it does seem to get a little trickier with 'like', and I guess similar verbs. The standard thing would be to say 'I learned to like cats'.
It does sound a bit weird to say " I learned how to like cats".
But .... if you said it, I would find a meaning in it. So are you asking what we commonly say, or what words and grammar mean? I think that's an important difference, do you understand what I'm asking you?

'I learned how to like cats'.
My method is to avoid having a cat of my own, but to have friends who have cats.
There's a meaning to be found in the words.

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So are you asking what we commonly say, or what words and grammar mean?

My question is, whether you native speakers use "learn to do" as an exact equivalent of "learn how to do".

Your reply seems to imply that you don't.
Taka, Clive,

I've been watching this thread with interest for a while.

After thinking about it, I don't think there will ultimately be a solution for the original question, especially in view of the word exactly. In my opinion, the choice of whether to include or omit "how" in the expression "learn (how)" is extremely sensitive to the exact choice of words which surround it. Something like an impressionistic view may have to suffice in place of the desired exact answer. Even some long posts on the subject may only scratch the surface of a topic riddled with subtleties.

It seems we could divide the possibilities into four main groups on the basic of mathematical combinations. I find it difficult to characterize each possibility in terms of the typical kinds of actions within each group. Below I present only the sketchiest beginnings of what we might do to rationalize what we observe in the living language.

1) Preference for neither "learn to" nor "learn how to".
This group consists of actions which are not learned. Perhaps most actions in this group are instinctive and reactive in nature. These don't make sense primarily because "learn" (with or without the "how"!) just doesn't make sense in the context.

*He learned to sneeze. *He learned how to sneeze.
*He learned to risk his life for others. *He learned how to risk his life for others.

2) Preference for "learn to" over "learn how to".
This group includes "learn to like cats", as you have already shown. More generally, it includes "psych-verbs" or "private verbs" (like, appreciate, enjoy).
Many of these seem to involve acquiescence after resistance or some sort of negotiating (with one's own psyche) to reach a certain state (over time).

I learned to enjoy the sound of screaming children running through the house.
I learned to like bittersweet chocolate / beer / winter weather / rain.
Eventually, the survivors learned to forget the horrors of the past.
One of these days I'm going to learn to ignore her faults.

As you pointed out, "learn how" in this context requires a forced reading. That is, "learn how to like cats" requires an effort of contextualization, let's say.

3) Preference for "learn how to" over "learn to".
Some of these have a sense of "catch on" and a sense of "after experiencing" or "working it out on one's own". Some of them seem to be more clear than others in focusing on "a way" or "a good way" or "the way" or "the proper way" ("to do something").

After much experience, we might learn how to explain certain principles of English grammar effectively.
Henry eventually learned how to ask the boss questions without getting that you-are-stupid look.
In class today we learned how to write a business letter.
To be effective at communicating, you have to learn how to phrase a question clearly.

4) No preference - or both seem equally acceptable.
Many of these are typical skills which one normally is taught.
I learned (how) to drive / paint / express myself in French / sing / play the piano

To me, the inclusion of "how" is more natural with beginners - they are just beginning to learn how to do something. Those who have advanced and mastered an area of learning have learned to do (whatever).

Little Johnny had fun in first grade today. He learned how to tell time!
Matisse learned to paint at a famous school in France.


If you are as (shall I say?) indecisive as I, you may find it difficult to place certain sentences quite definitely in one category or another. There are many borderline cases, and the few attempts I've given to find reasons to place a sentence in one group or another are clearly inadequate in number, not to say quality.

You will also find that with what I have called "forced readings" you can find a context in which either inclusion or omission of "how" makes sense. It's sometimes difficult to determine which readings are more "natural" and which are more "forced", but you have to distinguish between them to get at the essential meaning of each expression.

Good luck to both of you as you continue your explorations of this thorny subject. Emotion: smile
Thank you for the outline, Jim. Great job!

Although English is not my first language, I feel "learn to do" is better than "learn how to do" in one case but not in another. But I cannot explain why.

If it is hard for you native speakers to explain it, no wonder it is much harder for me. Emotion: smile


Let me ask one more thing, Jim, Clive.

What do you think is the difference between "learn to do" and "come to do"?
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"learn to" and "come to" are totally different, with the exception that "learning" is "coming to know".

"come to" is to a verb as "become" is to an adjective, but "come to" is much less frequently encountered than "become". It sounds a bit clumsy to the native ear. Plus, it's too confusable with its other meaning "arrive for the purpose of": "The plumber came to fix the toilet." Still, "came to" is usually used with mental verbs, so the confusion may be minimal, now that I reconsider.

In some sense, the two are markers of change from absence to presence of some state. Unless the progressive tenses are used, "come to" implies a sudden change rather than a gradual one. It appears to me that prefixing a stative (non-punctual) verb with "come to" makes it a punctual verbal phrase.

Fred finally came to see how wrong he was. = Fred finally realized how wrong he was. = Fred finally became aware of how wrong he was.

I came to know about it through a friend. = I found out about it through a friend. = I learned about it through a friend. = I became aware of it through a friend.

The students came to believe that the teacher was infallible after he accurately predicted the performance of the stock market daily for six months. = The students became persuaded that ...

After a few months, she came to enjoy the old man's visits. She came to see that he wasn't so boring after all. She came to appreciate his dry wit.

In summary, "came to" just says the change took place, "learned to" implies some psychological component of the subject underwent a change as well. In the last example, we could have said "She learned to appreciate his dry wit" if we had wanted to emphasize some effort on her part to come to appreciate the man's wit.

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