[VS-series] 「聞く」 vs 「聴く」

「聞く」 and 「聴く」.These two verbs express almost the same meaning and are read the same way, but use different kanji. The meaning differs slightly depending on the kanji used.
Let’s capture an image of what each kanji means so we can use them properly!

For conjugation of 「聞く」, see the article below:
Japanese Verb 「聞く(きく)」and Conjugations
*「聴く」 is conjugated in the same way as 「聞く」. You can also refer to the conjugation of 「聴く」.


Translation: to listen; to hear

It is used to sense voices and sounds with the ear using the auditory sense.
This kanji is used for all verbs that can be translated (or paraphrased) as “to listen” or “to hear”. If you’re not sure which one to use, just use this one 「聞く」.

“I work listening to music.”
*The music is only played as background music, and the speaker is not concentrating on listening.

“When I hear the sound of waves, it makes me sleepy.”
*The speaker is listening to the sound of the waves in a relaxed state that makes him or her sleepy, which is not a state of being concentrated on listening.

聞こえる (きこえる)

We use this kanji for other sounds that come naturally to our ears. In these cases, we often use the verb 「聞こえる」(“to be heard”), with the sound as the subject.

「Noun (sound) が聞こえる」
”Noun (sound) is heard (= I can hear Noun [sound])”

“I can hear the ambulance sirens.”

“I can hear the baby crying.”


Translation: to listen carefully

This kanji is used for listening carefully to sounds and voices, trying to understand the auditory information and the content of the speech. We use this kanji when we want to emphasize the attitude of listening. It can also be paraphrased as「聞く」.

“As soon as I get home, I want to listen to a new song by my favorite singer!”
*When you listen to a new song by your favorite singer, you listen carefully so you can understand the lyrics and the feeling of the song, right? That’s why the speaker uses this kanji.

“He speaks in a dialect that you have to listen carefully to understand.”
*Since he speaks in a dialect, the speaker uses this kanji to emphasize the need to listen carefully because if you don’t concentrate, you may not understand what he says.

Tips to Remember

Remember that both 「聞く」 and 「聴く」 have 「耳」”ear” in the kanji; 「聞く」 has only 「耳」 “ear” to express that you are just listening to the sound coming into your ears, while 「聴く」 has 「心」”heart” or “mind” to express that you are listening carefully, trying to understand the content with your heart!

Situation 1

You are taking a break at a café and a Portuguese song is playing.

Use「聞く」when the song is coming naturally to your ears.

“I heard a Portuguese song in a cafe.”

Use 「聴く」when you are studying Portuguese and are listening carefully, trying hard to catch the lyrics of a song.

“I listened carefully to the Portuguese song playing in the cafe.”

Situation 2

You are camping in the mountains. Birds are singing nearby.

Use 「聞く」when you are relaxing in the mountains and the sound of the birds singing along with the sounds of nature comes into your ears.

“I heard birds singing and it was very soothing.”

Use 「聴く」when those are birds with a distinctive singing pattern and you want to concentrate only on the birds’ singing in order to google search their species.

“I listened carefully to the birds and googled what species of birds they were.”

Got the different images of「聞く」 and 「聴く」?
If you have any questions about which one to use in certain situations, feel free to ask! If you are not sure which kanji to use, just use the kanji 「聞く」 and you will be fine 😉