verb (used with object), o·ver·heard, o·ver·hear·ing.

to hear (speech or a speaker) without the speaker's intention or knowledge: I accidentally overheard what they were saying.

Origin of overhear

First recorded in 1540–50; over- + hear
Related formso·ver·hear·er, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for overhear

Contemporary Examples of overhear

Historical Examples of overhear

  • Wishing to know what they were up to, I stole slyly to where I could overhear their proceedings.

  • Not another word of this just now, or they may overhear us.'

    Barnaby Rudge

    Charles Dickens

  • He was glad to be thus isolated—he could overhear no criticism or comments.

    Cleo The Magnificent

    Louis Zangwill

  • He tried to overhear their conversation but it was in a language which he did not recognize.

    Poisoned Air

    Sterner St. Paul Meek

  • Then you must tell him, of course, even if you did overhear.

British Dictionary definitions for overhear


verb -hears, -hearing or -heard

(tr) to hear (a person, remark, etc) without the knowledge of the speaker
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for overhear

"to hear what one is not meant to hear," 1540s, from over- + hear. The notion is perhaps "to hear beyond the intended range of the voice." Old English oferhieran also meant "to not listen, to disregard, disobey" (cf. overlook for negative force of over; also Middle High German überhaeren, Middle Dutch overhoren in same sense). Related: Overheard; overhearing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper