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I came across the sentence, "I rejoice to hear it," and wasn't exactly sure how to read it. So I looked up "rejoice to hear," and found it again in a poem by Isaac Watts:

How did my heart rejoice to hear
My friends devoutly say,
"In Zion let us all appear,
And keep the solemn day!"

Does my original sentence, "I rejoice to hear it," mean, I rejoice at having heard it, or I rejoice to hear it -- I rejoice so that I may hear it.

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As noted before, the rejoicing is a consequence of hearing something, rather than a cause of hearing.

However, it would be a mistake to regard “I'm glad to hear you're well” and “I'm happy to hear the news” as parallels or guides to understanding the modern meaning of “I rejoice to hear it”. The former sentences normally are straightforward and true statements; the latter ironic or sarcastic. For example, if a colleague tells you at length how they will improve process XYZ tomorrow or the next day, and you reply, “I rejoice to hear it”, that may translate to “I'll believe it when I see it”, “All this is nothing to me”, or “Just get on with it!”, depending on context and the tone of voice you use. It does not mean you are rejoicing because of hearing the detailed plan for improving XYZ.

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    It is true: Unless said in reference to truly stunning good news "I rejoice to hear it" is an overstatement, a sense aptly captured by Shakespeare's "Methinks the woman doth protest too much." Because it is just too giddy, it is most likely sarcasm.
    – shipr
    Jul 14 '14 at 5:48
  • @shipr, there are numerous mid-1800's novels where “I rejoice to hear it” is offered as straight-up dialog; but from the early 1900's on, usually as irony or sarcasm. Jul 14 '14 at 5:55
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    Yes, @jwpat7, but then you had already said it was the modern meaning. I was just agreeing. And I have read lots of those 1800's era novels, including all 28 Elsie Dinsmore books, in which the phrase was used. Mostly because the antecedents would be considered stunning good news by the almost universally positive characters.
    – shipr
    Jul 14 '14 at 5:58
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It is your first interpretation: the rejoicing is the result of hearing it.

Although it may seem a bit of a weird construction, the other interpretation makes little sense - it would be hard to rejoice in order to hear something...

The same construction is similar to these sentences, and the meaning of "I rejoice" is "I am (very) happy":

I'm glad to hear you're well.
I'm happy to hear the news!
I'm happy to oblige.
I'm glad to serve.

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