I saw this answer that says that we use hear for sounds that come to our ears, without us necessarily trying to hear them, and we use listen to describe paying attention to sounds that are going on.

Now does that mean that I can use "hear" also for music if I don't want it? (For example: "I heard music there" (=I didn't want it) Vs. "I listened to music." (I wanted it).

Also I noticed that always when people communicating through phones, they very often say "I hear you" or "I can't hear you". Now, based on this answer both (hear and listen) are possible for use, depending on the context. Isn't it?


2 Answers 2


That website you quoted is right. In general, we can think of the action of hearing as passive listening. Consider these two hypothetical situations involving a phone conversation:

I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you said. You were breaking up. Could you please repeat that?

In this scenario, it's not your fault that you couldn't hear what the person on the other end was saying. You couldn't hear him because of a technical issue.

Gosh, I'm sorry, I wasn't listening to you. I was doing something else here. I was trying to get rid of this annoying pop-up window on my screen. Could you say that one more time please?

In this situation, it is now your fault that you couldn't hear the other person. You had all the potential to listen to your interlocutor, but you weren't because you were busy doing something else.

And the same thing, of course, applies to situations when we're talking about music:

I've heard some Guns N' Roses music, but I've never listened really closely to it.


Yes. Note that for 'listen' you need to add the preposition 'to' (so 'I listened to music).

No. See http://www.f.waseda.jp/vicky/students/help/mistakes/listen-hear.html. Here, 'hear' describes something the person can't control ('I can't hear you') It cannot be replaced by 'listen to'

  • Regarding to the preposition in this case it was a typo (I mean the omission). I would like to understand what is your "yes" and "no" refer to. Now, unfortunately it is not clear. Dec 30, 2017 at 20:38
  • Yes: your first question (Now is that means that...) and No: your second question (Also I noticed that always...) Dec 30, 2017 at 20:39

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