In Maltese, we have a verb meaning "to show" corresponding to "to see/to look", and we have a different verb corresponding to "to hear/to listen":

inti tara stampa (you look at a picture.) ---- jiena nurilek stampa (I show you a picture)

inti tisma' diska (you listen to a song.) ----- jiena nsemmagħlek diska (I 'show' you a song)

In English, do you "show someone a song" (sounds weird to me) or is there a verb that corresponds more directly to the Maltese insemmgħek?

  • 1
    This is a tricky one. In the music business you'd say "I'll let you hear this new track..." Note that you could "show" a song, meaning, the sheet music. And note that indeed you COULD say "here, I'll show you how the song goes..." and then play it on piano.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 13:55
  • It occurs to me the "actual answer" here in real life, when "play" does not really work, is probably "let them listen to ...". So you might say "Where's my sister, I must let her listen to this song..."
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 8:30
  • Or possibly, make her or have her, listen to a song.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 13:55
  • Another possibility is to share a song with someone.
    – jxh
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 5:29
  • 1
    'insemm' translates to 'mention'. What does 'għek' mean?
    – Mazura
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 10:39

11 Answers 11


I don't know anything about Maltese grammar, but I want to guess that nurik and nsemmgħek mean, respectively 'cause to look' and 'cause to listen'. Some languages have standard ways of converting one verb to a causative verb (one that means 'to cause to do'). As an example, in Classical Nahuatl the suffix -ti turns any verb into a causative verb. So the word cueponi could mean bloom (flowers), then cueponaltia to cause flowers to bloom.

In English there is no automatic way to make a verb into a causative verb. If you have a pair like die and kill (cause to die), then that is just your good luck that you have a causative verb corresponding to die (Classical Nahuatl has miqui die and mictia kill, using the same -ti suffix).

So there is no single word in English that means cause to listen. If you say Thomas played Molly a song that means that Thomas played a song for Molly's benefit. Any English transitive verb can take a benefactive reading using this construction (think of the Bob Dylan song that goes God said to Abraham, kill me a son). Play is probably the best word you could use, but it doesn't mean cause to listen.

  • 2
    You are correct about nurik and insemmgħek meaning "(I) cause (you) to see/look" and "(I) cause (you) to hear/listen".
    – MGA
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 14:35
  • To "tell" someone something is to cause him to listen. But you don't really "tell" a song. You can tell someone a story though.
    – The111
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 4:14

In English, we would usually use the word play. That covers both the act of performing the song on an instrument (perhaps while singing, if the instrument permits) and the act of playing a recording of the song. If you give an a cappella rendition, live, you would use the word sing.

  • 1
    Thanks! It works, but it doesn't precisely capture the meaning of the Maltese verb. A very rare case of Maltese being richer than English I suppose :)
    – MGA
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 12:18
  • 12
    This would be the answer chosen by the lyrics to Sweet Transvestite: "So let me show you around, maybe play you a sound, you look like you're both pretty groovy..." Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 4:11

Per @bye's answer, in the case of a song, you'd probably play or sing it to someone else (depending on how you cause the sound to be made). But if you wanted the band at your private party to play some particular song that you can't think of the name of, the bandleader might say:-

"You hum it and we'll play it" (just give us idea of what it sounds like; we'll probably recognise it)

More generic verbs (which could also be used of a taste or smell as well as a sight or sound) are:-

present - to offer for observation, examination, or consideration; show or display
demonstrate - to give a demonstration

  • 4
    present and demonstrate are excellent realisations.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 13:55

Play is good if you want something specifically for sound, but I would generally use show here. It refers to introducing or presenting new information in a variety of contexts, not strictly related to sight. For example, “He showed me a great new sandwich shop”. I find it no different than saying “I see” to metaphorically mean “I understand”.


In Russian, we say "дать послушать" which means something like give to listen or give a listen (according to Google translate), like if you have some recording (MP3, CD etc) and you give that recording to someone. In English, it's similar. You could say to your friend "give a listen to this song" or "give this song a listen".


As was suggested, you could use the word play. But the word show is also acceptable. The word show does not exclusively mean cause to be seen. Other meanings include:

3 : to present as a public spectacle : perform
    a : to point out : direct attention to
    b : conduct, usher
7 : accord, bestow

Definition six (a) is what you mean when you "show" someone a song, typically. You are probably going to pull it up on YouTube or something so they can hear it for the first time. The assumption under this scenario is that they have never heard the song before and showing it to them directs their attention to it. Playing a song for someone does not necessarily imply that.


I tend to say "I'll load up that song for you", but that phrase tends to imply that the song is stored as a file on a computer, so it might not work if the recording is stored on a more old-fashioned medium.


I don't believe that there is a single-word English translation of the concept of "make someone listen to something." However, if we stop focusing on the looking-vs.-listening distinction, we have terms like:

  • Share. For example, the Internet is full of buttons that let you share a link with your friends, meaning that you want someone else to have the same experience you had.
  • Introduce. That is a form of sharing where you believe that someone does not yet know of something.
  • Recommend. That is a form of sharing where you expect that someone will like the experience, because you know the other person's preferences.

I think the closest is "have you listen to," but it's only candid to say you've found an asymmetry in English, and native speakers will have slight awkwardness when ???ing someone a song. Possible ways this might be done:

  • "I want to show you this song" somewhat acceptable still, possibly because it's understood there's no perfect way to say this
  • "I want you to listen to this song" acceptable, but different color since it's not me doing something to/for you anymore.
  • "I want to have you listen to this song" resolves above difficulty but is longer and more awkward that way. I think it's preferred.

'Make mention' is a passable English phrase for "mention for you", insemmgħek. As pointed out, there's no one-English-word to translate this compound word into. When someone plays music for another, they are serenading them. However, this normally connotes a romantic, appropriate, and well received selection, unless said in jest.


"I will sing you a song " seems good enough

  • 6
    Yes, but only if you sing it yourself.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 19:59
  • Singing would only be a representation of the song unlike "showing" a picture. This would be akin to "describing" a picture.
    – TK-421
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 14:29

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