One of the meanings of the phrasal verb to listen in is "to listen to the radio".

Once the preposition to is already present in the definition, is it needed after the phrasal verb as well?

Q: What do you think she is doing now?

A: Listening in (to?) a drama show as usual.

I've never used this phrasal verb before, but something makes me doubtful whether the preposition to is obligatory here; although most certainly I am mistaken.

Could you elucidate that for me, please?

  • not necessarily: listen in on is a common phrase
    – costrom
    Sep 14 '16 at 18:53
  • You don't necessarily need to (as costrom points out, listen in on is common), but you do need some preposition there; you can't just "listen in a radio show". By the way, I don't think I would ever say someone was "listening in on/to a drama show", I would just say she was listening to it. Listen in on means something more like "tune a radio to receive".
    – stangdon
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:05

In contemporary American English, we listen to a broadcast; we don't say we listen in to a broadcast. However, those who are listening to a broadcast might be referred to as the listening audience or as those who are listening in, especially if the broadcast is some sort of discussion or talk show.

The locution is deictic and reflects the point-of-view of those inside the radio station rather than those who are outside it.


To listen in has two main usages and is followed either by the prepositions on or to:

  • 1)To listen without participating.

    • Do you mind if I listen in on your meeting tomorrow? We invite you to listen in to our radio broadcast.
  • 2) (idiomatic) To eavesdrop; to listen secretly.

    • You should close the door for conversations like that. You never know who might be listening in.


Listen in:

    1. Hear or overhear the conversation of others; eavesdrop. It is also put as listen in on, as in She listened in on her parents and learned they were planning a surprise party. [Early 1900s]
    1. Tune in and listen to a broadcast, as in Were you listening in the other night when they played Beethoven's Fifth? [1920s]


According to Ngram the usage of the expression "listen in on" is more common than "listen in to".

  • 1
    Isn't there the third usage? See here and here. My question is about this one, not other ones.
    – Victor B.
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:24
  • @Rompey - could you please define the "third" usage?
    – user5267
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:26
  • Didn't I started my question with it - to listen to the radio?
    – Victor B.
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:38
  • 3
    @Rompey - so you are asking the difference between "listen in to the radio" and "listen to the radio"? "Listen in to" conveys the idea of tuning in and listen to some specific program as in "Listen in next week to the conclusion of our jazz concert series!".
    – user5267
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:50
  • Thanks, that's what I asked about - whether the preposition "to" is obligatory after "listen in".
    – Victor B.
    Sep 14 '16 at 19:56

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