hear vs listen Samaritans awareness campaign chester bennington suicide

Hear vs listen

I noticed new Samaritans posters today at a train station:
hear vs listen samaritans campaign
samaritans campaign hear vs listen

A general stickler and former editor, I immediately caught on to the peculiar language.

To me, listening just means perceiving sound, albeit attentively. Hearing means taking it in. And, hearing = listening + understanding.

I don’t think the dictionaries (Oxford) agree with me:


perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)




give one’s attention to a sound

My one argument is that the verb listen can be used in the continuous, whereas hear is more perfect:

“I hear you”

means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey – in millennial English.


“I am listening to you”

means I will take in all these sounds you make, but there is no guarantee it will make sense to me.

You may listen to Linkin Park, but then you hear the news…
I guess the reason it registered on my radar was the poor Chester Bennington. Another high profile suicide, another wave of suicides that will follow. Take care of yourself.

23 thoughts on “Hear vs listen”

  1. Your millennial “hear” is colloquial and only applies, as you’ve signified, to recent generations. I find just the opposite word usage to be true. Although your “hear” = “understand” my hear is just, as Oxford lists, just sound. Listening to music? Are you not paying it attention? What about “I’m hearing music”… to me that sounds like I decidedly am not paying attention to it, but it’s there, in the background.

    I do like the subliminal message in the colored text in those posters. Seeing vs comprehending?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s a language quirk! 🙂

      I think they made the whole thing look much darker than it may actually be, but at least they convey the message that even if you’re in a bad way, you will be accepted.

      I remember being overwhelmed by all these things when I first started college. Posters in general bring me down 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most people understand the difference when used in the vernacular. Dictionaries don’t do vernacular. Try using the dictionary to define: “Zup, dawg?” Language morphs. High profile suicides? Agree with your conclusion.


  3. I love this article. I struck a real chord with me. The premise that you can hear, but not listen. It made me then think that you can listen but not attend to the person that is talking. How often do we do that? Perhaps that is at the heart of the Samaritan’s advert.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right. As a doctor, it is very much my primary job to listen. I guess it’s part of my personality to always question what it is that I am missing. However, oftentimes, I am aware that even if you listen very hard, it takes that extra bit of commitment to actually understand the message.


  4. Hi Martina, I have to say that before you put the dictionary definitions I had concurred with them.
    To me ‘hearing’ is the physical , biological and inherent action which occurs involuntarily. If we are not deaf, we have no choice BUT to hear; it’s one of our senses. To LISTEN is a conscious CHOICE, therefore it implicitly involves the selective thought and emotion and/or empathy, sympathy perhaps even disdain which results from it directly. However, to listen is to truly, CONSCIOUSLY comprehend the soul imbued words of the speaker.
    The phrase you used as an example is a colloquialism- “I hear you.” It’s primarily American, and oft used in films, TV shows etc. “I’m listening ” can be the most physiologically NEEDED words that someone in despair wants to hear.
    Thank you again for making me think so early on in the day! All the best 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My first response to your tag line was along the lines of the OD. To me, to hear is not an action, but to listen is. It is a matter of attention. We have all, I guess, experienced the phenomenon of being in a situation where we are receiving aural information but having it slide on by but then our attention is triggered and we replay the past few seconds of time, mentally and translate what we were hearing into something meaningful (a kitten’s cries, a bird song, whatever). So hearing is input, but attending to it results in a greater level of processing information it might contain.


  6. An interesting post, Martina. The Samaritans’ posters send a powerful message as people who care. To hear requires no human communicative skills. To listen is to hear with the heart; to be open to human interaction–the essence of caring for another person.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I hear and read in denotations; connotations often escape me. I agree with the dictionary. Hearing is a sense. I don’t pay attention to all incoming data. For example, I neither count nor estimate the number of leaves on a tree. When I pay attention to my senses, I’m watching, listening, or something other than passive sensing.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I hear you. I think most people have agreed with you: it’s only recently that the word “hear” has come to mean “listen effectively” – and perhaps to a minority!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is so true. I’ve volunteered for my University Nightline listening service for 2years now and I’ve learnt so much about listening and the impact it can have. So many people think they’re listening when they’re merely hearing the other person, too focussed on what they’re going to say next. I think listening can change lives and more people should learn active listening skills to achieve this. Thanks for sharing. I’d love you to check out my blog – I’m new to the blogging world!


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