Hear and Listen – what’s the difference?

Which should we use: ‘Hear’ or ‘Listen’?

‘To Hear’ is an involuntary action, whilst ‘To Listen’ is a deliberate action…

‘Hear’ is something you do without trying. You HEAR with your EARS. So, unless you have a hearing problem (e.g. if you are deaf), you will ‘hear’ something simply because it is making a noise.

‘Listen’ is an action that you decide on, when you specifically need to hear a certain sound. You make an effort to ‘listen’ TO something or someone. (Remember, to use the preposition TO after the verb ‘to listen’)

Q: Can you hear someone with a very quiet voice?
A: Only if you listen to them carefully.

  • Write down everything that you can hear without trying: the birds, the wind, the traffic, children playing in the street, the sound of a clock ticking, etc.
  • Write a list of the things that you like to listen to: music on the radio, the television, people talking to you, your language lessons, etc.
  • Write out several sentences using ‘to Hear’ and ‘to Listen to’.
Some Hear and Listen examples:
In the country, you can hear birds singing in the early morning.
You can hear a clock ticking during the night.
Can you speak a little louder please, I can’t hear you very well.
If you stop talking and listen TO me, you will understand what I am saying.
If you listen carefully TO the wind, you can hear it blowing through the trees.
I enjoy listening TO the sound of music on the radio.

Fill in the blank spaces with the correct form of the verbs ‘Hear’ or ‘Listen to’.
These sentences may use one only, either of them, or both.

  1. Can you that __________ that man shouting at his children?
  2. I can __________ a loud noise coming from the kitchen.
  3. Do you enjoy __________ classical music?
  4. Will you please speak a little louder, I can’t __________ you very well.
  5. If you __________ carefully , you can __________ the birds singing.
  6. Now __________ me, because I’m only going to say this once!
  7. I didn’t __________ the telephone because I was watching TV.
  8. If you __________ my pronunciation, you will learn well.
  9. Did you __________ about Mary’s new job?
  10. You never __________ me when I’m talking to you.
  11. Did you __________ the news yet today?
  12. He was talking so quietly, you couldn’t __________ what he said.
  13. We can __________ the traffic on the road outside.
  14. When the teacher speaks, the students __________ him.
  15. Although I could __________ him singing, I didn’t really __________ the words.


Complementary Content:

Cambridge Dictionary – Hear or Listen (to)
Victoria Muehleisen – Listen, Hear.