In school I learned that escuchar was for the English "to listen to" and oír was "to hear." In Central America, however, I frequently heard escuchar being used for "to hear" (e.g. No te escucho meaning "I can't hear you" as opposed to "I'm not listening to you").

What is the normal semantic range of escuchar and oír?

Where are the regional differences found, and when can escuchar be used like oír?

  • In english we use listen to mean "paying attention to what is being said". To hear is a more general term meaning I can hear what you are saying but I may not be listening to what you are saying. I hear the music playing but I'm not paying attention to what is being played. In English, I hear you is more common than I am listening to you.
    – Don
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 18:56

3 Answers 3



Mientras que la diferencia entre una palabra y la otra es clara, el uso dependerá si se trata de un uso formal o informal.

Oír - Percibir por el oído (un sonido) o lo que (alguien) dice.

Escuchar - Poner atención o aplicar el oído para oír (algo o a alguien). Por tanto, la acción de escuchar es voluntaria e implica intencionalidad por parte del sujeto, a diferencia de oír, que significa, sin más, percibir por el oído (un sonido) o lo que (alguien) dice. Puesto que oír tiene un significado más general que escuchar, casi siempre puede usarse en lugar de este, algo que ocurría ya en el español clásico y sigue ocurriendo hoy. Menos justificable es el empleo de escuchar en lugar de oír, para referirse simplemente a la acción de percibir un sonido a través del oído, sin que exista intencionalidad previa por parte del sujeto; pero es uso que también existe desde época clásica y sigue vigente hoy, por lo que no cabe su censura.


Aside from the difference in definitions, the choice will depend on whether it is used for formal or informal use.

Hear - To perceive by hearing (sound) or what (someone) says.

Listen - Paying attention or using one's ear to hear (something or someone). Thus, the action is voluntary and involves intentionality by the subject, unlike hearing, which simply means the perception by the ear of a sound or of what someone says. Because hearing is more general than listening, oír can almost always be used in place of escuchar, which was the case in classical Spanish and is still the case today. Less justifiable is the use of escuchar instead of oír, to refer simply to the act of perceiving a sound by ear, without any prior intention by the hearer, but this usage has existed since classical times and continues today, so it should not be censured.


I think "escuchar" is only used as meaning "to hear" when you say something like "I can't hear you." It's more or less an acceptable misuse, or an exception to the correct way. It's hard to see someone using "te escucho andar" as in "I hear you walking" -- it would always be "te oigo andar".


In Central America and South America the people use many words without reason what it mean.

The difference between "Oír" & "Escuchar" is the attention that you gives to the entity that make the noise.

"Oír" is "Escuchar" but without understand the ambit and the way and other thinks that it was produced.

But as I say before, you don't have to pay attention because depends of how do the person expressed.

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