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The difference between ENTENDRE and ÉCOUTER

Updated: Feb 21

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced user of the French language you have most probably already encountered the complex usage of the verbs écouter (listen) and entendre (hear). Indeed a difficult choice…


At school a teacher notices that one of the boys is not listening. He is restless and never stops talking. So she asks him: "Que se passe-t-il ? As-tu une difficulté ? Pierre!!! Tu peux m’entendre??" (What’s going on? Do you have a problem? Pierre!!! Can you hear me??). The boy replies: "Entendre est OK, le problème, c'est écouter." ("Hearing you is fine, the problem is listening.").


Entendre is an involuntary, even passive action. We cannot avoid hearing, because sounds continually hit our ears, so we ‘must’ hear. To say it another way, entendre requires no effort, it’s perfectly natural. For example: J'entends du bruit. (I hear a noise.).

Écouter is entendre with full attention. It is a voluntary action. When you listen to a conversation you pay attention to what is being said. Écouter is a decision. You listen to your teacher (a good idea!) because you WANT to listen to her. To do it you need to concentrate.

To memorise this rule the best way is to remember this sentence: L'oreille entend, le cerveau écoute (the ear hears, the brain listens).


Exercise:

  1. Bonjour Emma, c’est un plaisir d’…… ta voix. (Hello Emma, it’s a pleasure to …… your voice.)

  2. Quand j’…… le chant des oiseux, je suis toujours content. (When I …… birds singing I am always pleased.)

  3. Qu’est-ce que tu veux faire? …… de la musique ou jouer au foot? (What do you want to do? …… to music or play football?)

  4. Il ne peux pas travailler car il …… le bruit des moteurs de l’usine et cela le dérange beaucoup. (He can’t do any work because he can …… the noise of motors from the factory and that disturbs him a lot.)

  5. Tu …… ton ami? Il te parle! (Are you …… ing to your friend? He is talking to you!)

  6. Nous avons …… un train passer devant la fenêtre. (We …… d a train pass by the window.)

  7. Vous …… les voisins? Ils font la fête tout le temps, je n’en peux plus! (Do you see …… the neighbours? They are always partying, I’ve just had enough!)

  8. J’la radio en faisant mes devoirs. (I ……… to the radio while doing my homework.)

To finish, here are some ‘ extra’ examples for advanced pupils. To translate the verb "entendre" into English you have the choice between "hear", "listen" and "understand" depending o the context.

  • "hear" e.g.: "J'entends du bruit." means "I hear a noise."

  • "listen" e.g.: "Il ne veut rien entendre." means "He won’t listen."

  • "understand" e.g.: "Cela s'entend parfaitement." means "That is perfectly understandable."

For the verb "écouter" the only possible translation is "listen". Depending on the context this verb can also have three meanings:

  • "listen to something" (intentionally). e.g.: "J'écoute de la musique." means "I am listening to music."

  • "listen" in the sense of being attentive. e.g.: "Écoutez-moi quand je parle !" means "Listen to me when I speak!"

  • "obey something". e.g.: "Écouter la voix de la sagesse." means "Listen to the voice of reason. »

 

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