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'Listen' or 'Listen to'? Which One Is Correct? | Mastering Grammar

(Last Updated: 11 February 2024)


Listen or Listen to: Which One Is Correct? 

Listen is an intransitive verb, so it cannot take a direct object. To introduce the object—the person or thing being listened to—we need to use the preposition to:

I listen to my Chopin CD every day. (object: my Chopin CD)
I listen my Chopin CD every day.

✅ We should listen to the advice of our elders. (object: the advice of our elders)
We should listen the advice of our elders.

✅ He developed a deep appreciation for jazz after listening to a live performance. (object: a live performance)
He developed a deep appreciation for jazz after listening a live performance.

The children should have been listened to. (object: the children)
The children should have been listened.

The professor is knowledgeable about this subject, and the points he has made are points to which we listen carefully. (object: which, a relative pronoun representing points)
❌ 
The professor is knowledgeable about this subject, and the points he has made are points which we listen carefully.

We use listen without to if we do not mention the object, or if it is a discourse marker:

Could you please listen carefully?
Could you please listen to carefully?

Sometimes, it's best to just listen.
Sometimes, it's best to just listen to.

The teacher was explaining a difficult concept, but the students weren't listening.
The teacher was explaining a difficult concept, but the students weren't listening to.

✅ Listen! Somebody is coming!
❌ Listen to! Somebody is coming!

Listen, I can't be available all the time.
Listen to, I can't be available all the time.

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Examples from the Media

Listening to a podcast probably requires more cognitive effort than listening to music. The Washington Post (2023)

There’s a song that Alan Truscott listens to a lot these days. Toronto Star (2023)

It seems that as a nation, we don’t listen to our children, we don’t listen to our experts, and we don’t listen to the United Nations. —The Sydney Morning Herald (2019)

Families who tried to reveal maternity failures in Nottingham should have been listened to sooner, the ex-midwife probing the scandal said yesterday. —Daily Mail (2023)

Quite a few of my interviewees used the term ''inner noise'' to describe the emotions and thoughts that make us want to stop listening, perhaps by changing the subject or getting up to do something. —Otago Daily Times (2014)

Natalie Rose, a wellbeing champion for HS2, says: "The first thing you have to do is listen. Show some understanding, compassion, have patience, point them in the right direction of where they can get some support." —The Guardian (2019)

Practice

Choose the correct option to complete each sentence.

1. Dad always listens/listens to his favourite radio station on his way to work.

2. I need you to listen/listen to.

3. He enjoys listening/listening to podcasts during his daily commute.

4. Can you listen/listen to for a moment?

5. Let's sit back and listen/listen to the sounds of nature.

6. Anna often listens/listens to audiobooks while cooking or cleaning.

7. I find great relaxation in listening/listening to the sound of raindrops falling on the roof.

8. She listened/listened to intently, trying to catch every word.

9. I wish you would listen/listen to my side of the story.

10. The students in our school are able to voice their opinions, which we listen/which we listen to and take into account.

11. Everyone was listening/listening to attentively.

Answer Key

1. listens to    2. listen    3. listening to    4. listen    5. listen to    6. listens to    7. listening to    8. listened    9. listen to    10. which we listen to    11. listening

Real-World Examples of Misuse

1. As a general rule, a singular countable noun (e.g. student) needs to be preceded by a determiner (e.g. athethis, or that) or be made plural. In the given context, using the plural form students is appropriate since the writer is referring to students in a general sense.
2. The relative pronoun that is optional in the sentence because it serves as the object of the verb in the relative clause that we listen to. However, a relative pronoun that functions as the subject of a verb in a relative clause cannot be omitted. For example, in the sentence Musical pieces that are uplifting can evoke positive emotions, the relative pronoun that is indispensable.
3. The preposition to is required because it connects the verb listen with musical pieces (i.e. we listen to musical pieces, not we listen musical pieces).
(Image Source: HKDSE English Language 2018 Question Papers)
(Also by HKEAA: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12/13)

Listen is an intransitive verb, which means it does not take a direct object. In this case, the preposition to is needed to link the verb listen with its object music.
(Image Source: 英文文法精讀與練習)

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