Listen/Hear

Introduction

Listen and hear have similar meanings but we use them differenlty. Here we explain the difference between listen and hear in English.

Can you hear Laura practising the flute? She’s getting better every day.

When she first started learning, she was terrible. We could hear her practising every day, and we tried not to listen to her.

These days she’s very good and we quite enjoy listening to her play.

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Hear

  • hear = perceive sound or noise using your ears
Example:
Can you hear Laura practising the flute?

Hear is passive, we can hear something without wanting, or choosing to.

  • use hear to talk about a complete piece of music, radio programme, speech etc. that you have listened to (in the past)
Example:
I heard her playing the flute on the radio last week.
  • don’t use hear in progressive tenses
Example:
I am hearing strange noises.
I can hear strange noises.

Listen

  • listen to = pay attention to sound or noise
Example:
We quite enjoy listening to her play.

Listen to is active. We only listen to things that we choose, or want to pay attention to.

  • use listen to to talk about actions that are in progress or not complete
Example:
I am listening to her playing the flute on the radio.
  • don’t use to when there is no object
Example:
When Laura plays the flute, we don’t listen.
(but: We don’t listen to Laura playing the flute.)