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Hear or Listen?

Average: 3.5 (18 votes)

A while ago we looked at how to use look, see and watch; today we at two other verbs connected to our senses: hear and listen.


We use hear for sounds that come to us when we are not expecting to hear them, i.e. we are not trying to hear something. We hear something without trying to.

"They both heard a strange noise coming from outside."
"What was that noise, did you hear it?"
"I think I can hear Elvis. It could be coming from my neighbour's house."

Hear is used for sounds we cannot control:

"It was so loud at the party that I could not hear what she was saying."
"You'll have to shout when you meet my grandmother, she doesn't hear very well."


Listen is used when we are carefully listening to something. We actively pay attention to the sounds.

Hear is not followed by to. We hear something e.g. hear a noise. We listen to something e.g. "I listen to Jazz to relax".

Confusing Examples!

"I was listening to the radio last night when I heard a really documentary about Chinese culture."

In this example, we make an active effort to listen to the radio without knowing what we will hear on it. We can then use hear because we were not expecting the documentary to come on. We were not planning to listen to it, it just came on the radio. However, if someone turns off the radio during the show, you would say. "Hey, don't turn that off, I was listening to it!"

"Have you heard that new U2 song?"

We use hear in this question instead of listen because there is a focus on the sound of the song more that the action of listening to it. Sometimes heard is used when are listening to someone or something with great attention.

Now decide which word is needed to complete the following sentences:

  • 1 - What kind of music do you ___ to?

  • 2 - Make sure you ___ carefully.

  • 3 - I've been ___ a lot of reggae recently.

  • 4 - I can't ___ what you are saying.

  • 5 - I ___ a knock at the door.

  • 6 - ___! Is someone singing?

  • 7 - Sorry, can you repeat that, I wasn't ___ to what you said?

  • 8 - I didn't ___ the phone ring.

  • 9 - His speech is so boring I don't want to ___ any more of it.

  • 10 - Did you ___ the thunder last night?