Quick English: Hear or Listen?

We've already talked about the difference between here and hear, but now it's time to explore how hear and listen to are used in English. Find out if you should use hear or listen in some situations.

Hear and listen are both used to talk about the sense of using our ears - but their meanings are quite different.

To hear something is a passive action. It means that sounds enter into your ears, but it may not be intentional.

  • Could you speak louder please? I can't hear you.
  • I hear that dog barking all the time.
  • It's so quiet in this building that you could hear a pin drop.

To listen is an active action. It means that you are making an effort to pay attention to sounds.

  • Kaitlin listens to a lot of music.
  • Nohelia never listens to Frank when he has a suggestion.
  • Could you repeat what you said? I wasn't listening.

You can hear without listening, such as when a door slams, or someone has a conversation nearby. You cannot listen without hearing, though.

You would listen to... 

  • someone speaking to you
  • a radio show, podcast, TV show
  • a song

You would hear...

  • a car alarm
  • a knock at the door
  • the phone ring


Use hear when talking about a public performance, such as a concert or a public speech. Use listen for non-public circumstances.

heard Beyonce sing this at her concert last night!

Let's listen to that Beyonce song again.

Grammar Activity

Try to fill in the answers below with either hear or listen to. For the answers, check the English Activities Answer Key.

1. Stop shouting! I ____ you.

2. Hazel wanted to ________ her favorite podcast but Chase wouldn't stop talking.

3. Alex doesn't ________ the haters.

4. When Bhupinder has headphones in, she can't _____ anyone.

5.  Can you _____ the sound of the ocean?

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