Hear vs. Listen – What is the difference?

What is the difference between HEAR and LISTEN?

Before we begin, in the video you can hear the pronunciation of the word LISTEN.
The letter T is silent in LISTEN.

So what is the difference between these two verbs? Let’s start with LISTEN.


Listen requires effort. You make a decision to listen.
You can choose if you are going to listen or NOT listen.
You deliberately pay attention to the sounds.

Note: If you specify what you are listening to, you need to add the preposition TO after LISTEN:
Listen + TO + (something)
Listen + TO + (someone)

Let’s look at some example sentences:

  • The vet is listening to the dog’s heartbeat.

(It is intentional, the vet is paying attention to the sounds)

  • My grandmother likes to listen to the radio.

(Again, it is intentional. She chooses to listen to the radio because she likes it.)


Hearing requires no effort.
You do not make a conscious decision to hear.
For example, the cat making a lot of noise outside your window. You HEAR the cat. You don’t intentionally try to listen to it.

You physically experience the sense of sound.

Sometimes the sound you hear is sudden or unexpected like a noise, an alarm or an explosion.

Let’s look at some example sentences:

  • I can’t hear you. Could you speak louder please?
  • Did you hear the thunder last night?


Let’s compare the difference between HEAR and LISTEN.

Hear (is NOT intentional) – you hear a noise, a voice, an explosion.
Listen to (IS intentional) – you listen to music, a speech, someone speak

Let’s look at some examples comparing the difference:

  • The runner cannot hear the dog barking because he is listening to music

He cannot hear the noise or the sound of the dog. He is intentionally listening to his music.

  • You can hear somebody talking but you need to listen to them to understand what they are saying.

Past Tense of Hear and Listen

Let’s quickly look at the past tense of these verbs:

Past tense of listen: listened (regular)

  • I listened to everything the teacher said.

Past tense of hear: heard (irregular)

  • I heard a cat outside my window last night.

Summary Chart

Hear vs. Listen - The difference between HEAR and LISTEN in English

Lesson tags: Continuous Tense, Past Tense, Present Continuous, Present Tense, Senses, Verbs
Back to: English Course > Doing Things

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