In English, we have listen and hear. They have different meanings. But it seems that in German, there is only hören.

So, how to express 'listen to' and 'hear' in German?


Rules of thumb:

If you just hear something or listen to music, it is hören.

Ich habe ein Flugzeug gehört.
Ich höre gerade das neue Album von ...

If you listen to what somebody says, it is zuhören.

Ich habe Dir genau zugehört.

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There's hören, horchen, lauschen and compounds like anhören, zuhören in German. Just like to listen and to hear, they have differences in meaning, sometimes subtle.

But translation doesn't consist of picking direct equivalents (though this is often possible). Just like you'd use to listen and to hear in appropriate situations, you use each of the above German variants in appropriate situations. And you have to learn which situations are appropriate by looking at examples and internalizing them, by looking at possible translations in the dictionary etc.

You can say what variants are closer to "general auditory perception" and "specific auditory perception" (and I leave this as an exercise of using the dictionary), but I'd still recommend to not translate literally from English. Stop thinking in English, learn how words are used in German, and start thinking in German. (And the same applies of course to any foreign language you are learning, there are language pairs where literal translations are much more rare).

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    "horchen" and "lauschen" have certain connotations. English "to eavesdrop" might be a good translation depending on context, but sometimes the right translation is still "to listen" with an adjective like "listen carefully" or "listen closely". I think the answer to the question just comes down to "hören" and "zuhören" which are the equivalents of "to hear" and "to listen" in regard to their primary meaning. – Em1 May 16 '17 at 7:03
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    Yes, all of them have connotations. And you have to know them. And yes, sometimes the right translation is "hören" und "zuhören". But sometimes it won't be. – dirkt May 16 '17 at 7:22


hear = hören listen = zu-hören


Radio -> Zuhörer --> Listener

Hearing is just that hearing. Listening is paying attention. "At" in English is in German "zu". Therefore zuhören.


Hör mir zu! Listen to me.

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But it seems that in German, there is only hören.

That is only true when you are referring to standard German. There are numerous dialects of German that have the same words as in English (connate and with the same meaning), e.g. in the Alemannic dialects:

  • lose ‘listen’ (only without the unetymological -t-)
  • ghöre ‘hear’
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