Listen vs. Hear – What’s the Difference?

Listen-vs-Hear

Are Listen vs. Hear the Same or Different?

The verbs “listen” and “hear” seem identical, but there is a subtle difference between them. But in some cases, we can often use them interchangeably.

What’s the difference between listen vs. hear is a question that makes even native English speakers pause and reflect to think about it.

You have to be very careful not to misuse these verbs Listen vs. Hear because it may create misunderstandings. For example instead of saying “I did not hear you”, an English learner might say “I did not listen to you” thinking that these two sentences mean the same thing. Actually, they don’t, because the latter has a negative connotation, like you intended not to listen.

Does this sound confusing? Well, let’s improve your English speaking today and take a look at some of the uses and meanings of these verbs. Let’s learn how to use them correctly to speak more naturally like a native English speaker.

DEFINITION AND USAGE OF “LISTEN”

When to Use the Verb “to Listen”

Use the Verb “Listen” When you Want Someone to Pay Attention

For example:

— Listen, I have to tell you something.

— Oh, I hope it’s good news.

“Listen to Your Heart” is an example of a popular song in English that asks you to pay attention to your emotions.

When you say “Listen”, you are asking someone to intentionally pay attention to what you are saying. You want them to focus on what you are talking about or will talk about. 

You can also use it to let someone know that you are actively listening to what they are saying. That you want to listen and you are interested in what they have to say.

For example:

— So, I have figured out how to fix our problem.

— Okay. I’m listening.

LISTEN IS USUALLY FOLLWED BY PREPOSITION “TO” when used with an object

“Listen” is not a transitive verb, so it is unable to take a direct object. That’s why “to” is necessary for these types of sentences.

For example:

— Please, listen to my explanation.

— Did you listen to the lecture?

— Let’s listen to a song.

if “listen” is used as a command or request, you don’t need to use the preposition “to”

If you want to give commands or requests using “listen”, you don’t have to follow it with “to” because there’s no direct object.

For example:

— Listen up! We need to finish this task now.

— I will tell you the plan so listen carefully.

— If you want to know the truth, you have to listen now.

Now that we have learned the proper usage of “listen”, let us now move on to “hear”.

When to Use the Verb “to Hear”

The ability to hear or your sense of hearing

For example:

— Hey, are you okay? You look tired.

— I couldn’t sleep last night. I could hear our neighbor’s dog barking all night.

Hearing is something that is not on purpose. It is hearing the sounds that you don’t intentionally want to hear. Would you like to hear the siren? Your neighbors shouting at each other? The dogs barking? I don’t think so. Hearing is more about your natural ability to hear, no effort needed, no focus necessary.

For example:

— Is John here already?

— I think so. I may have heard his voice earlier.

Use “Hear” When you Want to Change the Subject of Conversation

For example:

— Did you hear about the news? Jennifer Lopez is engaged!

— Wow! I’m so happy for her.

When you want to change the topic or begin talking about a new subject, using “hear” is a great way to start. Here are some other variations:

— Didn’t you hear? The new client is arriving today.

— Have you heard about the new series on Netflix?

Use “Hear” to Show Sympathy

For example:

— This job is demanding. I barely have time for my family.

— Yeah. I hear you.

“Hear”, if used correctly, can be a very powerful word. You can use it to show empathy. “I hear you” can mean different things like, “I understand” or “I agree with you”.

We can also use “hear” with prepositions to create phrasal verbs.

For example:

— I haven’t heard from him in a long time. (this means you have not received a communication like an email or call from someone)

— Just hear me out, then tell me what you think. (it means to listen to everything someone has to say)

Prepositions can change verbs into phrasal verbs with completely different meanings. Click here to see a lesson about the Top 10 Phrasal Verbs for Speaking English Part 2.

Now you know the difference between “listen” and “hear”. “Listen” involves effort and focus while “hear” is about your natural ability to hear even the things that you don’t want to hear. I hope this lesson will help you to be more correct and confident when speaking English!

Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

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