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Let's say my friend and I are at his place alone. and and all of a sudden music starts to play in the living room, which is imposible because I am sure we are totally alone. So I start to think that I am just hearing things. Do I say I hear or I am hearing in this situation? For example:

Are you sure we are alone? I hear music in the living room.

Are you sure we are alone? I am hearing music in the living room.

3 Answers 3

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"I hear music in the sitting room" suggests you have been to the sitting room and heard it. "I am hearing music in the living room" is slightly better, but I think "I can hear music coming from the sitting room" is more precise, and it's probably what we would say.

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  • Thank for the answer! Could you tell me how is "I am hearing music in the living room" better? Jun 16, 2020 at 20:49
  • Sorry, Dmytro: I changed "living room" to "sitting room" by accident! "I am hearing..." is slightly better than "I can hear..." because "I am hearing music in the living room" means "Now, here, where I am at this moment, I am hearing music in the living room." whereas "I can hear music in the living room" might mean, "When I go into the living room I can hear music". I say "might" because it is not a clear way to speak. "I can hear music coming from the living room" is what we would say. (In the UK.) Jun 17, 2020 at 11:43
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Hear” is a stative verb and we prefer to use the present simple rather than the present continuous with verbs describing states:

  • I agree with you.

  • I love her.

  • You smell nice.

These all are examples of “state verbs”.

Some state verbs can be expressed in the present continuous form when we want to emphasize that a situation is temporary, for a period of time around the present. But other state verbs which describe the senses (e.g. “hear”, “feel”, “taste”, “see”, “smell”) are commonly used in the simple present form.

Are you sure we are alone? I hear music in the living room.

Are you sure we are alone? I am hearing music in the living room.

Your sentences have the same meaning, but I would personally prefer to use the first sentence, the second one sounds a bit odd.

The Ngram Viewer shows that the usage of “I am hearing” is very rare, whereas the usage of “I hear” is very common.

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  • Your use of Ngram is imprecise. The results include all the times we say "I hear" in any context. "I hear he died", "So I hear", "Did I hear a knock?", "Whenever I hear it it", "Every night I hear them", "Can I hear your phone ringing?" etc. Yes, it is more common than "I am hearing", but that tells us nothing about this OP's specific context. Jun 17, 2020 at 11:28
  • The results also include the usage of “I am hearing”. “I am hearing a knock”, “I am hearing some footsteps”, “I am hearing his voice” and so on. I have already explained that why “I hear” is so widely used. Jun 17, 2020 at 11:38
  • When asking a question I do not think it would be odd to ask "Why am I hearing..." instead of "Why can I hear...". Ngram Viewer even suggests that the "am I hearing" construction is more popular. Jun 17, 2020 at 11:49
  • I would still not use “why am I hearing...”, it’s better to use “why do I hear...”. Jun 17, 2020 at 11:51
  • Yes. And of course people very rarely say "I am hearing a knock" etc. I hear is more common than "I am hearing" because it is used in many different contexts, and your Ngram result shows that. However, in the OP's context, "I can hear music coming from the living room" is what we would say in the UK. Maybe it's just a regional variation. Jun 17, 2020 at 12:05
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Actually it is not a matter of "what is nice" or "what sounds better".

It is just a plain rule in English. “Hear” is a stative verb and with such verbs we use the present simple rather than the present continuous. I hear a sound. I feel sick. I smell shit.

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    Can you provide a reference for that? Although the simple is more common the continuous seems perfectly correct in the right context.
    – mdewey
    Mar 24, 2021 at 14:55

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