'Hear' vs 'Listen': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on May 11, 2023

The difference between 'hear' and 'listen' confuses many people. The two words are very similar. However, there are times when one is appropriate while the other is not.

So, I will review the definitions, synonyms, accurate usages, and other important details to help you learn the meaning of each.

Do you need the short version? 

Here it is: 

  • 'Hear' is a verb or noun meaning to recognize or register the sound of something. 
  • 'Listen' is a verb or noun that means to actively give your attention to the sound of something. 

There is a lot more to learn. So, keep reading!

What is the Difference Between 'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

Interestingly, 'listen' and 'hear' are often used interchangeably. However, you can 'hear' without listening and listen without hearing. Most people think these two terms are the same, but there is a slight difference. When you ask someone if they are 'listening,' you are inquiring whether they are paying attention to what you are saying.

Many people use 'hear' to ask the same question, and they mean the same thing, but technically, you can hear someone talking and have no idea what they are talking about. You can also listen to someone using sign language but not hear them.

Definition of 'Hear': What Does 'Hear' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 'hear' is most commonly used as a verb meaning:

  • To perceive something by ear

It can also mean:

  • To entertain a concept or idea
  • To pay attention to
  • To take testimony in a legal case
  • Having the ability to perceive sound
  • To receive information
  • To gain knowledge of something by hearing it
  • To focus on what someone is saying
  • To entertain a concept or idea

Synonyms of 'Hear'

  • Realize
  • Learn
  • Ascertain
  • Wise up
  • Detect
  • Catch wind of

Phrases Containing 'Hear'

Definition of 'Listen': What Does 'Listen' Mean?

'Listen' can also be a noun or verb. In the verb form, it means:

  • To focus your attention on a sound

It can also mean:

  • To give your consideration to something
  • To focus your attention on a conversation
  • To be alerted by something through hearing
  • An occurrence of listening

Synonyms of 'Listen'

  • Hear
  • Pay attention
  • Mind
  • Heed
  • Hark
  • Harken

Phrases Containing 'Listen'

  • Listen here
  • Listen up
  • Listen carefully
  • Give it a listen
  • Listen to me
  • Listen in class
  • Listen to the music
  • Active listening

When to Use 'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

In many cases, you can use these two terms interchangeably. However, sometimes you speak with someone who is def that using 'hear' may be inappropriate.

So, how do you know when and which to use? 

Use 'hear' to ask someone if they have auditory perception.

For example, you could say:

Are you able to hear the TV? I can turn it up if you can't hear the show. 

Use 'listen' to ask someone if they are paying attention.

For example, I might say something like:

I need you to listen carefully. I am only going to repeat the instructions one time. However, I will allow you to ask questions. You should have no problem completing the assignment if you are actively listening.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

Knowing how to use words is only half of the battle. You must also know how to pronounce words to use them confidently.

So, here is a quick guide:

  • Use this phonetic spelling to pronounce 'hear':


  • Use the phonetic spelling below to pronounce 'listen' correctly:


As you can see, the 't' in 'listen' is silent.

Sample Sentences Using 'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

Before you go, read the sample sentences below using both words. They will help you remember how to use them grammatically.


  • Did you hear him tell you bye and thank you for inviting him to the party?
  • When you hear the alarm go off, you have to wake up. Otherwise, you risk missing your test.
  • The volume doesn't need to be up for you to hear it. Please turn it down!
  • Did you hear your phone ringing? It rang two or three times.
  • I love to hear the birds chirping in the morning.


  • I always enjoy listening to music after a stressful day. It helps to calm my nerves and uplift my spirit.
  • Are you listening to me? I hate wasting my breath.
  • When you listen to certain songs, you are instantly transported to a different period in your life.
  • Active listening is a skill that every organization should teach. When your entire team uses the practice, it improves customer satisfaction and employee retention.
  • Listen to that band! They are incredible!


  • Did you hear them whispering in the corner? I was trying to listen to what they were saying, but I couldn't hear them over all the noise in the office.
  • How soon do you think you can listen to my demo? I would love to hear what you think about my latest track.
  • Listen carefully when you hear weather alerts on your phone. The information emergency management sends could save your life.
  • Did you hear? The teacher sent her home because she wouldn't listen.
  • He could hear the professor talking, but he always recorded the lectures. So he can listen to them later.

Final Advice on 'Hear' vs. 'Listen'

You learned a ton of information about the difference between 'hear' vs. 'listen.'

So, here is a quick recap: 

  • Use 'hear' as a verb or noun to perceive something through auditory perception.
  • Use 'listen' as a verb or noun meaning to give your attention or focus on a matter.

If these terms mix you up in the future, return here to refresh on this lesson. While here, you should also check out the other confusing word guides.

They each contain valuable information, definitions, usage tips, and examples to help you expand your vocabulary and improve your written and spoken grammar.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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