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What’s the difference between écouter and entendre?

It can be easy to mix up the French verbs écouter and entendre. The key difference is that the former is active and the latter is passive, similar to the English verbs listen and hear. Keep reading to learn when to use écouter and when to use entendre, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.


Tous les élèves écoutent le professeur avec attention.

Le professeur demande à Henry de répondre à la question. Mais Henry ne l’entend pas car il pense à autre chose.

Fundamentally, the verbs écouter and entendre both talk about the act of perceiving sound with your ears, however there is a key difference:


The verb entendre is passive: it is comparable to the English verb hear. We use entendre when the person perceives sound regardless if they want to or choose to.

Exemple :
Henry n’entend pas le professeur car il pense à autre chose.Henry can’t hear the teacher because he’s thinking about something else.

We often use entendre with the words bruitnoise, vacarmeracket, nouvelle(s)news, rumeursrumours


In contrast, écouter is active: it requires the listener’s intention and focus. We can compare it to the English verb listen.

Les élèves écoutent le professeur avec attention.The students are listening carefully to the teacher.

We often use écouter with words like musiquemusic, radioradio, discoursspeech, quelqu’un qui parlesomeone who is talking


Take a look at the sentences below to get a better idea of the difference between entendre and écouter.

Pauline écoute les oiseaux.Pauline is listening to the birds.

Pauline is actively listening to the birds

Pauline entend les oiseaux.Pauline can hear the birds.

The birds are singing nearby and Pauline can hear them, however she is not actively devoting her attention to their song; it is simply part of the surrounding environment

To see the conjugations of écouter and entendre, go to our French Verb Conjugator. To learn about some more confusing verb pairs, check out our pages on parler/dire and voir/regarder.