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Listen up!

Have you noticed that there is not only the verb hören in German, but also anhören and zuhören? Unfortunately, the difference between these three can’t exactly be equated with the difference between “to listen” and “to hear” in English. Let’s try to get to the bottom of how each one is used.  

Hören without any prefixes can actually be translated as both “to hear” and “to listen,” depending on the context.



Hört ihr es? Mein Wasser fängt gerade an zu kochen.

Do you hear it? My water is just starting to boil.

Caption 35, Cannelloni - mit Jenny - Part 1

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Das haben wohl schon so einige Kinder von ihren Eltern zu hören bekommen.

Quite a few children have gotten to hear that from their parents.

Caption 2, Kochhaus Berlin - Kochen mit Kindern

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OK, ich höre. Wer beginnt?

OK, I am listening. Who will begin?

Caption 26, Deutschkurs in Blaubeuren - Der Relativsatz - Part 16

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Zuhören is used to describe listening intently or paying attention. 


Du musst genau zuhören, was gesprochen wird,

You have to listen carefully to what is said,

Caption 39, German Intro - Cettina

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„Und nun hör zu:" "Der Sommer ist warm und kurz."

"And now listen up. "Summer is warm and short."

Captions 29-30, Piggeldy und Frederick - Sommer

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Sich etwas anhören describes listening to something specific that requires some time, for example, a song or an album. This is a bit confusing as hören is also used to talk about listening to music. If you understand the difference between sehen and sich etwas ansehen, this may help you with the distinction between hören and sich etwas anhören. Perhaps it is not unlike "to have a good look" or "to have a listen."


Wir möchten uns ein bisschen von seiner Lebensgeschichte anhören.

We would like to hear a bit about his life story.

Caption 4, Dieter Kränzlein - Bildhauer - Part 1

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Und was erwartet uns, wenn wir uns das Album anhören?

And what awaits us [can we expect] when we listen to the album?

Caption 13, Sons of Sounds - Open-Air in Karlsruhe

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At the same time, sich anhören is also used to talk about something (for example, an idea or suggestion) that “sounds good” or “sounds bad.” Take a look at the structures below: 


OK, das hört sich gut an. Ich komme gerne mit.

OK, that sounds good. I'll gladly come along.

Caption 44, Diane erklärt - Fragewörter

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Im Präteritum würde sich das so anhören.

In the preterite [narrative past in German], it would sound like this.

Caption 31, Konjugation - Das Verb „mögen“

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Now for a false friend alert: The verb überhören does not mean "to overhear" in the English sense. It actually means to ignore or miss something one has heard. 



Further Learning
Search Yabla German for more examples of these verbs to develop your understanding of how they are used. Next week, we’ll look at a few words that contain the word hören, but have little to do with listening or hearing.  

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