If someone asks me: "Hast du mich nicht verstanden"? and I want to reply "I wasn't listening", what is the best way to say that in German?

Here's a few examples of what I'm inclined to say but I'd like feedback on what would actually be the most natural...

  • Ich habe dich nicht angehört.

  • Ich habe dich nicht zugehört.

  • Ich hörte nicht zu.

  • I have heard, "Ich habe nicht aufgepasst." (I wasn't paying attention.) May 1, 2017 at 5:31

2 Answers 2


Anhören is not the same as zuhören:

Anhören means:

  • Listen very carefully to what a person is saying, for example when a witness makes a statement in court. The word, you often use for a setting in which this verb is appropriate is called »hearing« (in German: Anhörung).
  • Listen to something that has been recorded before, for example listen to a song.

Zuhören means:

  • Listen to someone without particular attention, i.e. not so focused and carefully like a judge who is listening to a witness in court.

Ich habe dich nicht angehört.

This means, that there was no hearing where I listened to you. I guess, the setting, where your dialogue is happening, is not what you would call a hearing, so this sentence is not a good choice.

Ich habe dich nicht zugehört.

This is grammatically wrong. The pronoun for 2nd person must not be used in accusative case, but dative case. This would be correct:

Ich habe dir nicht zugehört.

This also is the sentence you are looking for. It exactly means »I didn't listen to you.«

Ich hörte nicht zu.

Although syntactically correct, this is the wrong tense. It's past tense (Präteritum) but present perfect tense (Perfekt) (like in all the examples above) should be used because what happened is closely related to the present. In fact, in many regions the past tense is not used in oral communication at all.


The most natural answer would be:

Ich habe (dir) nicht zugehört.

These common alternatives would also work in that situation:

Ich habe nicht aufgepasst. (I didn't pay attention.)
Ich war abgelenkt. (I was distracted.)

  • Pro tip: add a "gerade", which sounds a bit nicer, as in "Ich habe gerade nicht aufgepasst". This adds the notion that the person was absent for just a moment. Note that this does not work with "dir" though. "Ich habe gerade nicht zugehört" works, but "Ich habe dir gerade nicht zugehört" sounds as if it was a deliberate act. Granted, this is very nuanced.
    – Cerno
    Jan 24, 2019 at 13:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.