Hear or Listen (to)

Hear or Listen (to)

By Alena Lien, 

28 January 2021

"Hear" and "listen" are verbs related to perceiving sounds.

"Hear" means "to receive or become conscious of a sound using your ears."

"Listen" means "to give attention to someone or something in order to hear them."



1.   "Listen" is followed by the preposition "to" when an object is mentioned.

  • "Please listen to me."

  • "I listened to the song online."

"To" can be excluded if the object is not mentioned, or if it's a discourse marker.

  • "I'm listening but I can't hear anything."

Not - I'm listening to, but I can't hear anything."

  • "Listen, can you hear music?"

Not - "Listen to, can you hear music?"

2.   "Hear" is not usually used in the continuous form.

"Hear" is a stative verb and is not usually used in the continuous form.

  • "I can hear music from next door."

Not - "I'm hearing music from next door."

3.   "Hear" is to receive sounds; "listen" is to give attention.

"Hear" refers to the passive and physical experience of detecting sound - it is not deliberate and requires no effort.

  • "Hello? Can you hear me?"

  • "I can sometimes hear my neighbours talking late at night."

So when a sound is sudden or unexpected, we usually use "hear."

  • "I heard a loud noise last night but I wasn't sure what it was."

"Listen" refers to the active concentration on a sound - it is deliberate and requires effort.

  • "Listening to music while exercising can improve the quality of your workout."

  • "I try to listen to the lecturer but sometimes I get distracted."

You can also use "listen for" or "listen out for" when you are waiting for or expecting a particular sound.

  • "Listen for the beep and then leave a message."

  • "Sometimes I listen out for my cat's bell to know she's still in the house."

4.   "Listening" is a communication skill; "hearing" is the ability to perceive sounds.

For example, a "listening test" is to test a learner's understanding of a language, whereas a "hearing test" evaluates the sensitivity of a person's sense of hearing.

To "listen" implies that you are trying to understand, consider, and even take a genuine interest in what another person is saying.

  • "Please listen to the words that are coming out of my mouth."

  • "In any relationship, it's important to listen to what the other person has to say."

To "hear" does not include the ability to understand and interpret messages.

  • "I can hear you but the line keeps cutting out."

5.   "Listen" can be used as a command or request.

  • "Listen up! The coach has something important to say."

  • "I'm going to explain the strategy, so listen carefully."

6.   "Hear" can mean to be told or informed about something.

  • "Have you heard the good news?"

  • "If you don't hear from me by Friday, that means everything's good."

7.   "Hear" is used for public events; "listen" for non-public events.

  • "I went to hear John's lecture about climate change yesterday."

  • "I would love to hear Adele sing live in concert one day."

  • "Do you listen to the radio while you drive?"

  • "I listened to her latest single on the radio yesterday."