This is the first lesson of a series called “Top 10 Italian Mistakes You Could Be Making – And How to Fix Them”!
Today we look at the difference in usage and meaning between two verbs that you may think have the same meaning. But they don't!
SENTIRE (“to hear” – but also “to feel”)
ASCOLTARE (“to listen”)
SENTIRE IS USED TO REFER TO THE CASUAL “HEARING” OF SOMETHING.
ASCOLTARE IS USED FOR THE INTENTIONAL, FOCUSED (AND USUALLY ENJOYABLE) ACT OF LISTENING.
CAN YOU HEAR THIS SOUND?
Manu, senti questo rumore?
You cannot say:
Manu, ascolti questo rumore?
The real issue here when you are trying to say something like:
I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF…
Most students of Italian, even the most advanced ones, tend to use the verb ASCOLTARE in this scenario:
NON HO MAI ASCOLTATO…
But that is incorrect. The right verb here is SENTIRE:
NON HO MAI SENTITO…
ASCOLTARE is used for “hearing with intent” (and usually enjoyment, appreciation, or just determined focus), so it's good for things like:
ASCOLTARE LA MUSICA
Listen to music
ASCOLTA QUANDO TI PARLO!
Listen when I'm talking to you!
Meaning: pay attention!
There are times when both verbs work. For example, in conversation, we often use the empty word “listen”. Well, in Italian we could say:
ASCOLTA, SONO STANCO. VADO A LETTO.
SENTI, SONO STANCO. VADO A LETTO.
Listen, I'm tired. I'm going to bed.