I got confused while translating 'learn to forget' and have ended up with two different meanings. I can't definitely decide whether it is equivalent to:

'learn how to forget' 


'that purpose of learning is to forget'

I'm inclined to the first meaning but in this case how to tell about the purpose of learning and vice versa.

  • Welcome to ELU. It’s a good question. Personally I’d opt for the first definition.
    – Pam
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:21
  • It could be either, depending on context. The former is a more natural interpretaion.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 19:22

1 Answer 1


The speaker in what you are translating might be describing an experience they would rather not remember, but are having a difficult time getting it out of their mind. Thus, they need to learn to forget the experience with time.

They are learning how to get past the experience, to forget it, and to live without it bothering them.

As comments have said, it's important to know the context on a phrase like this. It'll almost never if not never mean the latter phrase, but in the rare case it does mean the latter, the context would probably reference the futility of the learning or the learning being in vain.

  • This is what I was thinking as well Dispenser. One descriptor I would add is 'adjust', as in the subject is "learning to forget"/adjusting how to proceed without something/someone. Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:26
  • you described the first meaning but what if i want to tell that the learning has no sense because you will forget anything you have learnt Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:27
  • 1
    If you want to express the phrase what you just said, "learning has no sense because you will forget anything you have learnt", you might say that the learning is "futile" or you learn "in vain" because you will forget it. If you put that in your question I'll change my answer accordingly.
    – Dispenser
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:37
  • @OleksandrZymohliad Without context we cannot necessarily know which of the very different meanings the author was trying to get across. I would guess it was almost certainly the first as the second concept is less common and it would be very unlikely for a native English speaker to try to express that second meaning using the idiom common for the first.
    – Tom22
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 18:50

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