TESOL/Using hear and listen

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The words hear and listen both mean that we perceive something with our ears, but the meanings differ.

Usage[edit]

Concentration[edit]

We use listen when we are concentrating harder on a sound. Hear may happen by accident, but listen is never an accident.

  • I thought I heard someone say my name. I thought I listened to someone say my name.
  • Suddenly I heard a dog bark. Suddenly I listened to a dog bark.
  • If you hear my cell phone ring, let me know. If you listen to my cell phone right, let me know.

Mechanics[edit]

Progressive[edit]

Hear is used as a progressive less often than most verbs. Instead, "can hear" is used.

  • I can hear the rain fall. I am hearing the rain fall.
  • Can you hear him breathing? Are you hearing him breathing?
  • I could hear man shouting when the car crashed.I was hearing a man shouting when the car crashed.

"Hearing" may also be an infinitive, which is spelled the same way as a progressive. In that case, it's fine.

  • I hate hearing his excuses.
  • Hearing the train come makes me excited.
  • Hearing you say that makes me happy.

Listen and listen to[edit]

Listen is used without "to" if there is no object. If there is an object, we have to use listen to.

  • Listen! Listen me!
  • You should listen to your parents. You should listen your parents.

Quiz[edit]

1 Your voice is too soft, so I can't _____ you.

hear
listen
listen to

2 I can _____ a strange noise in the bathroom.

listen
listen to
hear

3 I _____ carefully to remember.

heard
listened to
listened

4 I love ______ the sound of the bell so I can go home.

hearing
listening to
listening

5 I was _______ my favorite music on my music player when you came in.

listening
listening to
hearing

6 I wish my husband would _____ me.

listen
listen to
hear