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I'm not a native English speaker. I was recently chided for wrongly using studying as follows:

acquiring information by studying books

Is this really wrong?

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No, it's not wrong. One can "study" anything. I acquire information not only by studying books, but also by studying human and animal behavior, the consequences of natural disasters, and the way my PC behaves when I push certain buttons on the PC case and click on certain icons on the PC monitor. – user21497 Jan 13 '13 at 4:06
Thanks! Now how do I make my boos understand, who has been a big shot throughout her life? :) – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 4:10
Nobody likes being told they're wrong, especially big shots. Sometimes you just have to accept defeat before you've even started to compete. The best strategy in this case is to ask your boss what she thinks you should say. Use that for documents you create for her. Use yours for documents you create for yourself. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be right. I know this isn't what you want to hear, but reality is often more powerful than principle, & accepting reality is often more congenial: Sir Thomas More lost his head for foolishly being too principled. – user21497 Jan 13 '13 at 4:25
I understand the general mentality of Indian bosses (I am from India and I'm assuming that Ankush is too). English is one subject they 'boss' over most and never accept what their subordinates say even if what their subordinates say makes a lot of sense. I quite agree with what Bill Franke said in the above comment. – user32480 Jan 13 '13 at 4:34
@Bill: Your advice is well taken. Sadly, there's nothing I can do to ensure I don't make "mistakes" in future. :( – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 5:40

You wrote this:

. . . acquiring information by studying books.

Studying means "closely examining". Since books are normally simply read, the word study here carries the additional connotation of closely examining a material or something that is difficult to understand at first. This could mean you are examining the cover or the paper of the book, or that you are interpreting the minutiae of the text. It would be most appropriate in situations where you go over the same page again and again, trying to understand what it really means:

study the Bible as part of one's religion, or as an historic document

study a poem in order to understand its deeper meaning

study the manual of your television set written in inscrutable Chinglish

Study may or may not be acceptable in your situation: I am undecided. But I think you simply mean read, especially since this is about several books, and I think that would be the better choice—unless all these books are manuals or other books that normally require rereading sentences and paragraphs and pages in order to fully understand them. So it depends a little bit on context.

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Study can be used in two slightly different senses: learn about a subject or read something very carefully. Hence, one can study mathematics from a book (first sense) or one can study a mathematics book (second sense). For that matter, one can study this tutorial, that manual, this paper or that contract.

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Yes, but I guess the expression "studying books" has never been very popular. I think I'll drop it from my repertoire. – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:03
Thanks for boosting my confidence! But I can't overlook the fact that the opinion is sharply divided on this. I think I'll file it my memory as another of those "gray areas". – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:10
By the way, can you show some examples where "studying books" is used by authoritative sources? – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:12
Studying a book is not related to studying books. There's plenty of semantic difference. That example is not relevant and could effectively distract from the question. – Kris Jan 13 '13 at 6:22
I agree with @Kris. While statistical analysis can be misleading in general, here we are doing a straight count of two very specific and well understood phrases. Introducing "this" and "that" will just complicate matters. Anyway, please let's not argue about this. :) – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:29

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition 9a of the verb study is ‘To read (a book, a passage, an author) with close attention.’

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The person who chided you must have assumed that by "studying books" you were observing them rather than reading them. While your statement is not wrong, given appropriate context, there are always better ways to put the same point forward to remove such kinds of ambiguity when dealing with people less knowledgeable in English.

Example: "acquired information by referring to books", "acquired information by studying the material in books". All these simply depend on the context of the sentence.

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Firstly, study, used in general speech, includes the idea of 'reading a book', so studying a book would be incorrect.

stud·y /ˈstədē/
Noun The devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, esp. by means of books.
Verb Devote time and attention to acquiring knowledge on (an academic subject), esp. by means of books.
[emphasis mine]

Furthermore, the phrase studying books fails to convey a focused idea: Are you talking about the process of studying, or are you emphasizing the use of books, for acquiring information? Saying 'studying books' mixes the two elements. Say instead:

...acquiring information by study(ing). — to mean 'by reading books' or by other forms of 'research'.

...acquiring information by reading books. — to mean using books for the purpose.

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Brilliant answer! I guess that's the point. Studying a book and studying a face convey two different things. As I see it, general usage is more inclined toward "reading books". Another day, another lesson! – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:01
@JasonBourne Hmmm, looks like consensus is not in my luck today! But on what should we base our judgment? Ngram also shows that practically no one uses "studying books". I know it's not about correct or incorrect, but looking at contemporary usage I think this answer comes the closest to explaining the reasoning. – dotslash Jan 13 '13 at 6:08

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