Hear of, Hear about: What's the Difference? (Includes Practice Questions and Audio Reading)
Recommended level: Intermediate
"Hear of" is used to discuss one's awareness of the existence of something or someone. ("I've never heard of intermittent fasting.")
"Hear about" is used to discuss one's awareness and knowledge of a particular news event or incident, or to have heard more information about something or someone. ("Did you hear about Donna? She quit her job.")
"Hear of" and "hear about" both refer to a person's awareness of something or someone, but there is a key difference between the two phrases. So, what's the difference between "hear of" and "hear about"?
In short, "hear of" is used to discuss a person's awareness of the existence of something or someone, and "hear about" is used to discuss a person's awareness and knowledge of a particular news event or incident, or to have heard more information about something or someone. To erase any confusion, let's take a look at these phrases one at a time.
If you have heard of someone, you know who they are. You are aware of their existence. Maybe you know a lot about them, or maybe you know a little about them. This part is not important. The only thing we care about when we use "hear of" is knowing the name of the person or thing that is being asked about. Grammatically, because "hear of" refers to someone's lifelong knowledge--their experience from the time they started having memories until the present--it is most often used in the present perfect tense. Let's take a look at some examples:
"Yeah, I've heard of Diane Keaton, but I've never seen one of her movies."
"Have you heard of intermittent fasting? It's quite popular in the health industry right now."
"She's a new film director, but her first film is so incredible that I'm certain everyone will have heard of her in the future."
"What do you mean you've never heard of Bruce Lee?!"
"He's never heard of the French Revolution. Can you believe it?"
"Of course I've heard of The Rolling Stones. I've just never listened to one of their albums."
As you can see, if you have "heard of" someone or something, you have prior knowledge of that person or thing--you are aware of their existence. Basically, you know the name of the person or thing being discussed.
There is a famous scene in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean which clearly illustrates this point. The character James Norrington says to the pirate Jack Sparrow, "You are without a doubt the worst pirate I've ever heard of." Jack Sparrow responds by saying, "But you have heard of me."
In the eyes of the pirate Jack Sparrow, any publicity is good publicity. At least Norrington was aware of Jack's existence, which is better than not being known at all.
Now, to practice using "hear of," complete the following sentences:
Have you heard of...?
I've heard of...
I can't believe you've never heard of...
If you have heard about someone or something, you have heard news about that person or thing--you are familiar with something that has happened to them, or you have some relevant information about something or someone. This is the main distinction between "hear of" and "hear about." With "hear of," we're only concerned if you know the name of the thing or person that is being discussed. With "hear about," we are asking about someone's knowledge of something that has (usually, recently) happened.
The most common question with "hear about" is "Did you hear about XYZ?" It's like asking "Did you see or hear the news about XYZ?" It's also quite common to start a conversation with "I heard about XYZ" if you are starting a conversation with someone who was affected by the incident or event you are referring to. Notice that in the case of "hear about," the past simple is most often used, but the present perfect is also common. Let's take a look at some examples:
"I heard about you and Diana. I'm sorry." (In this case, the person being spoken to probably ended their relationship with Diana.)
"Did you hear about the company merger? 200 people are going to lose their jobs."
"Did you hear about the next Marvel movie? It's going to mix live action with animation."
"I haven't heard anything about this."
"Why is this the first time I'm hearing about this? You should have told me sooner."
"I've heard about him. I don't think we should hire him." (In this case, you have heard some information about the person who is being discussed. It sounds like you have heard some negative things, so you are recommending that the company not hire this person.)
"I heard about your promotion. Congrats!"
As you can see, when we use "hear about," we are concerned with having knowledge of something that has happened. It's not just about being familiar with the name of something or someone--it's about having information about an incident or event. Usually, it's about something that other people are also talking about.
Now, to practice using "hear about," complete the following sentences:
Hey, did you hear about...?
I heard about...
This is the first time I'm hearing about...
Finally, we need to have a brief conversation about the verb "hear" in general.
While it refers to the physical ability of hearing, as in "I can't hear you because the volume is too loud," it is also used in a few other contexts. Let's take a look at some examples and explanations:
"This is my first time hearing this song." (You can hear a song on the radio. If you don't like a song because you hear it everywhere, you might say "I'm tired of hearing this song," or simply "I'm tired of this song," without the verb "hear.")
"I heard that her presentation went very well." (It's very common to follow "hear" with a "that" clause. In this case, you could say "I heard about her presentation," meaning that you have heard news or feedback about her presentation, but if you want to state directly what people said about it, you would say "I heard that her presentation went well.")
"I heard what you said about me." (Using the word "what" after "hear" is quite common, especially in the simple past. Another common construction with this usage is "Did you hear what I said?" when we want to get someone's attention because we feel they might not be listening to us, either by choice or because of physical issues.)
To finish, let's take a look at three similar (but different!) sentences:
"I've heard you." (This means I have heard the words you said.)
"I've heard of you." (This means I know who you are. I have heard your name before.)
"I've heard about you." (This means I've heard what other people have said about you. I have some information about the type of person you are, or things you have done.)
Well, that's it. I hope you now have a better understanding of when to use "hear of" and "hear about."
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