“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.”

“Listen” + “to”
Stative verbDynamic verb
Emphasises receiving soundsEmphasises giving attention
Hearing abilityCommunication skill
Used as a command or request
To be told or informed
Used with public eventsUsed with non-public events


1.   “Listen” + “to” + object.

When an object is mentioned, “listen” is followed by the preposition, “to.”

  • “Please listen to me.”
  • “I listened to the song online.”

If the object is not mentioned or “listen” is a discourse marker, “to” can be excluded.

  • “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.   Receiving sounds or giving attention.
a. “Hear” refers to the passive and physical experience of detecting sound.

To “hear” 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.”
b. “Listen” refers to the active concentration on a sound.

To “listen” 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.   Hearing ability or communication skill.

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

a. To “hear” is to receive sounds but does not include the ability to understand and interpret messages.
  • “I can hear you but the line keeps cutting out.”
b. 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.”
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 usually used for public events.
a. For public events, it is more usual to use “hear.”
  • “I went to hear John’s lecture about climate change yesterday.”
  • “I would love to hear Adele sing live in concert one day.”
b. For non-public events, “listen” is more common.
  • “Do you listen to the radio while you drive?”
  • “I listened to her latest single on the radio yesterday.”

Original posts: 28 January 2021