Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To hear (speech or someone speaking) without the speaker's awareness or intent.
  • intransitive verb To hear something without the speaker's awareness or intent.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To hear (one who does not wish to be heard or does not know that he is heard, or what is not addressed to the hearer or is not intended to be heard by him); hear by accident or stratagem.
  • To hear over again; hear from beginning to end.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb To hear more of (anything) than was intended to be heard; to hear by accident or artifice.
  • transitive verb To hear again.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb To hear something that wasn't meant for one's ears.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb hear, usually without the knowledge of the speakers

Etymologies

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English *overheren, from Old English oferhīeran ("to overhear, hear, disobey, disregard, neglect"), equivalent to over- +‎ hear. Cognate with Dutch overhoren ("to hear, hear about"), German überhören ("to not hear, ignore"), Danish overhøre ("to overhear"), Icelandic yfirheyra ("to hear").

Examples

  • How charmed I am when I overhear a German word which

    Mark Twain's Letters — Volume 3 (1876-1885)

  • How charmed I am when I overhear a German word which

    Complete Letters of Mark Twain

  • All i overhear is ‘now stop swearing’, ‘theres no need to shout abuse down the phone’, ‘if you continue to scream obscenities I will terminate the call’ … etc etc..

    Another Day At The Office « POLICE INSPECTOR BLOG

  • If the Scripps Spelling Bee had been a Mark Burnett-style production, we'd have been treated to behind-the-scenes footage of players forming alliances, strategizing to trip up the frontrunners; Isabel Jacobson, the last female speller standing (you go, girl!), pitting the boys against each other by stage-whispering invitations to clandestine trysts; We'd "overhear" overstressed kids being browbeaten by parents who'd caught them peaking at comic books rather than practicing Croatian conjugation.

    Brenda Scott Royce: Last Speller Standing

  • I suggest but don't expect to be listened to that it would be prudent for South Korea, Japan, and Russia to reach a mutual understanding now on a unified reaction if such a situation should arise in the future, and the understanding should be just vocal enough for China to 'overhear' it soon without loss of face.

    As long as we're on this topic . . .

  • Adepts - or very powerful Mindspeakers - were so few that Savil seldom remembered that the Tayledras shared with Vanyel the ability to "overhear" any conversation that was not shielded against them.

    Magic's Price

  • Adepts - or very powerful Mindspeakers - were so few that Savil seldom remembered that the Tayledras shared with Vanyel the ability to "overhear" any conversation that was not shielded against them.

    Magic's Price

  • The agreement was measured, and Shann knew that he was meant to "overhear" that.

    Storm Over Warlock

  • "If only Apple would fix the software so iTunes doesn't "overhear" the commands when it's in the background and you actually are trying to pause, say, a movie."

    Wired Top Stories

  • On the other hand, if the ad hoc network doesn't come with clever enough encryption, even Google's demonstrated how easy it is to "overhear" a seemingly private Wi-Fi network at long range.

    Fast Company

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