listen and hear

Many students use listen and hear interchangably. However, there is an important difference between them. Listening describes an intentional activity. When you are listening, you are actively trying to hear something.

In contrast, hearing is something that happens without any intentional effort. You can hear something even when you don't want to hear it and don't try to hear it.

The sentences below contain both listen and hear and show the contrast:

Finally listen is often used with to.

In the examples below,taken from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, listen or listen to cannot be replaced by hear:

Likewise, in the examples below, hear cannot be replaced by

  • listen
  • , because hear is describing something that a person cannot control/

    HOWEVER, there are a few cases in which hear is used to mean something very close to listen to. In the examples below, listen to could replace hear.

    Why is hear used instead of listen to in these cases? Maybe because the emphasis in each case is on the contents of what is hear rather than on the activity of listening.

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