Common English Mix-ups: Hear vs. Listen


‘Hear’ is a verb that means to become aware of a sound with your ears. This means that you don’t really have control over it (the sounds just happen) and you don’t have to make an effort to receive the sound or information you are hearing.

For example:
She was watching TV when she heard a loud noise outside.
I heard that song playing in the background while I was shopping.
Could you speak up? I can’t hear you!

‘Listen’ is a verb that means to give your attention to someone or something in order to hear them. You can hear something and then choose to listen to it. Listen is direct and requires effort.

For example:-
I heard a noise outside, but as soon as I tried to listen carefully to find out what it was, it stopped.
Could you repeat what you said, please? I wasn’t listening.
I love listening to the radio in the morning while taking my shower.

One tricky thing to keep in mind, though, is that in some cases when we listen to something that isn’t directly said to us, like the news or a political speech, and/or we are reporting some interesting information (sometimes gossip!) to another person, we often use ‘hear’.

For example:-
I heard a really interesting thing about earthquakes on the radio this morning.
I heard that you weren’t feeling well today.
Did you hear their new song? It’s really good.

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