On a foggy day, you might say there is poor visibility. Similarly, trying to read something on your cell phone in direct sunlight is difficult.

Is there an equivalent word that can apply to hearing?

If you were trying to talk on your cell phone during a loud concert, it would be hard to hear. And listening to a radio station with static would also be difficult. But being able to hear a pin drop in a quiet room would mean you could hear something with great clarity.


I think you are looking for audibility:

  • quality or fact or degree of being audible or perceptible by the ear

The Free Dictionary

"Hearing range":

  • usually describes the range of frequencies that can be heard by humans or other animals, though it can also refer to the range of levels. The human range is commonly given as 20 to 20,000 Hz. (Wikipedia)

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Would it be proper to say "the audibility in this room is low"? – Robert Jun 29 '15 at 22:04
  • 1
    I'm not happy with 'audibility' being the counterpart of 'visibility' here. Would one really say 'There is poor audibility in the arena / room ...'? There are 2 distinct Google hits for "there is poor audibility". – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 '15 at 22:04
  • 1
    You are referring to "acoustic". – user66974 Jun 29 '15 at 22:05
  • 1
    Yes – I'd say that this answer should be replaced by 'acoustics'. Even the best hearing aids will not cope satisfactorily in surroundings where the acoustics are poor (www.hearinglink.org/acoustics) – Edwin Ashworth Jun 30 '15 at 16:37

While audibility is certainly the most precise term as Josh61 suggests, I believe clarity or clear finds more common usage in description of audio quality or sound perceptibility. For example, "I hear you loud and clear" is a common way to confirm that someone's speech was understood.

| improve this answer | |

I was originally going to suggest the word hearing which, in fact, you used to ask your question, but I believe that is more suitably the counterpart sight or vision. I believe audition suits your needs, if a bit uncommon.

Even with the use of a hearing aid her audition remained poor.

| improve this answer | |
  • I think "audition" in the way you use it means "hearing". "Visibility" is not the act of seeing, it's the quality of being able to be seen. "Audibility" is its equivalent for hearing. – Margana Jun 29 '15 at 15:02
  • @Margana Ahh, I see the difference there. So we're looking for a word that means the quality of being audible, not the quality of being able to hear. Thanks for the correction. – Daniel Brady Jun 29 '15 at 15:06
  • 1
    Even in the context you understood, "audition" seems like a very poor word choice considering its other much more common definition. I would understand your sentence to mean that even with a hearing aid, she still sang off-key for the director. – David K Jun 29 '15 at 16:28
  • @DavidK Agreed. However, since OP didn't mention anything about excluding uncommon usages, I thought it to be a fair suggestion. I've already agreed that I was wrong, though. – Daniel Brady Jun 29 '15 at 16:45

The answer to your question is "no".

While its true that visibility : seeing :: audibility : hearing in its normal context, the particular use of the word you're referring to would probably be classified as "jargon". It is derived from a military/transportation context, and is rarely (if ever) used outside of these. A pilot or a driver might say "I'm reducing speed due to poor visiblity", but if you were taking stroll with a friend in the fog and remarked that "visibility is poor", he or she would definitely give you a quizzical look.

Strictly speaking, visibility (and audibility) are nouns that refer to the ability of a thing to be seen (or heard). When one says "there is poor visibility" or "visibility is poor", there is an implicit abstract subject or indirect object: it means "the visibility [of things in general] is poor."

This type of thing is one of the stranger corners of the English language, one of the few ways that French influenced English grammar (as opposed to vocabulary, which was influenced much more) after the Norman conquest. In French, this type of grammar is common: "ça va, [on] ne pas", etc.

In English, there are a few other words that are used like this. For example, one might ask a shopkeeper "how's business?", and he might reply "business is poor". In this context, "business" does not refer to commerce in general, or even the shop itself (directly), but instead, it refers to the state of the shop's present profitability.

In any case, if you're looking for a more formal way of saying something is difficult or impossible to hear (although saying "hard to hear" is perfectly fine): you might use the adjective "inaudible", i.e., "you're inaudible" (I can't hear you), or "it is inaudible in the concert hall" (I can't hear in there).

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.