I know spying on somebody means to watch somebody secretly, but is there a term that means to listen to somebody secretly? For example, you are in a room talking with someone and there is someone else outside the door listening to your conversation without you knowing.

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    Eavesdrop. Nov 18, 2013 at 5:39
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    sidenote: spying on someone doesn't necessarily mean just watching them. It just means to collect information on someone without them knowing. For example, eavesdropping is a form of spying. Same with reading mail or other forms of communication. Best I can think of for an example to watch someone secretly would be to use the context with "spy". For example, "spying on someone with binoculars" or "he was spying on them through the window" both imply that there is some visual information being collected.
    – Gray
    Nov 18, 2013 at 13:20

2 Answers 2


Consider eavesdrop (“To hear a conversation one is not intended to hear; to listen in”) and overhear (“To hear something that wasn't meant for one's ears”).

A usage note at the first link points out:

To eavesdrop usually implies the listener is purposefully trying to hear the conversation of others. To overhear is more often accidental.

  • It helps to realize what _ eavesdrop_ literally means: the eave is the overhang of a roof. Unless it is raining, why would you stand so close to a building except to listen to the conversation inside. Dec 16, 2020 at 17:07

In addition to the very fitting answers provided by jwpat7, there is also the phrasal verb listen in.

NOAD says:

listen in (phrasal verb) listen to a private conversation, often secretly

I usually hear it used with the word on:

Maybe I should have minded my own business, but I couldn't help but listen in on Rob and Amanda's conversation.

Also, if the eavesdropper is using electronic equipment to monitor the conversation, an oft-used word is bug, which can be used as a verb (to conceal the device) or a noun (for the device itself):

The spy was not aware that someone had bugged the room.

The spy planted a bug in the room.

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