‘To listen’ vs ‘to hear’

“People may hear when you shout, but they don’t listen”. My host mother used to say that a lot, complaining that she didn’t get people’s attention to what was really necessary. But then, what’s the difference between ‘hear’ and ‘listen’?

They both refer to the sense of hearing, one of the five we have (the other ones are sight, smell, taste and touch), but have distinct uses.

Hear is involuntary and it refers to an ability. In practical words, I can’t choose not to hear something: if I have ears and am not impaired I simply do so.

It’s also a stative verb and therefore it can’t be used in the continuous/progressive form. For instance, we can’t say “I’m hearing my favourite songs”.  The uses of hear are like these:

- Can you hear me? (Você me ouve? /Consegue me ouvir?)

- I can’t hear you. (Não estou te ouvindo/ Não consigo te ouvir)

- Can you hear that strange noise? (Você está ouvindo/consegue ouvir esse barulho estranho?)

 Listen is a voluntary action and we can decide if we want to do it or not. To listen means to pay attention to what someone says or to a song or sound. It’s a dynamic verb and it can be used in most tenses.

-What are you doing?
- I’m listening to my favourite songs. I’ve been listening to the same album for 2 months now!

 - How’s the new job going?

- I’m a little disappointed. My boss never listens to what I have to say.

- This music is just terrible! I can’t listen to this all day long… I’m getting annoyed.

- Unfortunately it’s impossible not to hear it. Just try not to listen to it. Simply ignore it!

 Hope it is clear. Have a good practice!