When taking about visuals, we can use the verb show as follows:

  • I want to show you something.
  • Can you show me?

What would be the corresponding verb to use when talking about sounds?

  • I want to [verb] you something.
  • Can you [verb] me?
  • 2
    "show and tell" – Mitch Dec 13 '12 at 21:35
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    Many people use show for this as well. For example, "Let me show you the noise my car makes when I turn on the AC." – Jim Dec 13 '12 at 22:31
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    Good question. But I think realistically, the closest you'll get is either play (works well in many/most contexts), and show (which as @Jim says, is commonly used in all other contexts where we can't use something like play, sing, hum, etc.). We probably all know "show" isn't quite right - the reason we use it at all is simply faute de mieux. – FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 22:42
  • Why are you locked into that format, "I want to [verb] you something."? Why not use an alternative phrase that is not so stilted by its structure and is more commonly used by native speakers, such as Robusto's suggestions? – Kristina Lopez Dec 14 '12 at 0:25
  • I'm not locked into the format. That's not the point. @tylerharms' answer below addresses the specific issues in this question. The verb 'tell' is the closest word that I can think of, but there have been multiple occasions when I've wanted to use this exact usage so bad that it hurt. – jdstankosky Dec 14 '12 at 13:41

I think the verb for it does not exist. All the answers and comments are good but they are good alternatives. Changing the sentence structure may get you to convey what you want but that was not the question. If you think like that then there are millions of way to construct sentences to work around some words or phrases. So I believe that the answer is that the word you are looking for does not exist.

  • I'll most likely select this as the answer tomorrow if nothing else pops up. I'm disappointed in how many people are simply encouraging me to not seek an answer for this question because alternatives exist to communicate the idea. – jdstankosky Dec 14 '12 at 23:46

You wouldn't say it that way. You'd say

I want you to listen to something.


I want you to hear something.

or even

I want to play something for you.

The latter could be switched around to

I want to play you something.

But that still wouldn't cover all sounds, as I mentioned in my comment to you.

  • Is the only reason for not saying it the way it's phrased in my question because the verb does not exist? – jdstankosky Dec 13 '12 at 20:10
  • 1
    The only thing close would be "I want to play you something," but that doesn't cover all noises. – Robusto Dec 13 '12 at 20:34
  • Also: "I want to tell you something" if you're talking about conveying information via speech – Yamikuronue Dec 13 '12 at 20:47
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    I'd usually say, "Hey, listen to this." +1 for natural language. – user867 Dec 14 '12 at 6:35

I'm going to disagree with Robusto's answer slightly and say that play is the equivalent you're looking for.

I want to play you something.

Can you play that for me?

While it is true that play does not apply in all situations, I think you can also find situations where show does not make much sense for visuals.

Play is a general fit when you are either playing a recording, or playing a musical instrument. If you are talking about a more specific sound, you would use a more specific verb, like tell (for speech) or sing (for vocal music).

  • 1
    What if I want you to listen to bird singing or the sound my car makes when you turn on the AC? – Jim Dec 13 '12 at 22:28
  • @Jim - Yes, I did say that play does not apply in all situations, but I still think it's the best parallel to show. Ironically, in the situation you describe, I would probably still use show :) – Lynn Dec 14 '12 at 3:17

I don't think it's as simple as filling in blanks with corresponding sense words. I think there is also something to the usage of show in this question. For instance, in the first example, "play" functions similarly to "show".

  • I want to show you something.
  • I want to play you something.

But in the second example it does not:

  • Can you show me?
  • Can you play me?

This is because we can remove it and to with the verb show and not lose the meaning.

  • Can you show me?
  • Can you show it to me?

However, it should be noted that the unspoken it or something in "Can you show me" is the direct object of the sentence and me is the indirect object. Without the it/something, ambiguity exists. A similar sentence could be written where me is the direct object and there is no indirect object:

"Which one of you dolls should I show to Mrs. Claus tonight? asked Santa."

"Can you show me? asked Betty the Doll."

This omission is not always possible. Play does not function the same way as show though. We cannot remove it and for and retain the same meaning.

  • Can you play me? (Something a talking instrument might ask)
  • Can you play it for me? (A request to hear something)

A closer meaning to OPs example would be "tell", which works identically in both cases:

  • "I want to tell you something."
  • "Can you tell me?"

However, tell only covers speech.

The combinations of verbs with dependent prepositions are vast in English; and it's not necessarily that we lack a verb to fit a specific construction, but that just because some verbs share a common trait (i.e. they deal with senses), they don't necessarily share a common construction. To show vs. To play is an example of this. With that said, all five sense words (taste, touch, see, smell, hear) can form identical constructions.

  • I want you to taste something...Can I taste it?
  • I want you to touch something...Can I touch it?
  • I want you to see something...Can I see it?
  • I want you to smell something..Can I smell it?
  • I want you to hear something...Can I hear it?
  • So far, you seem to best understand the issue my question is facing. Indeed, "Tell" is the closest verb that would fit the usage examples, but it's exclusive to speech or recitation. – jdstankosky Dec 14 '12 at 13:38

To emit, while applicable to more than sound, may also work — as show may not be limited to visuals.

  • 3
    This doesn't work with OP's templates: "*I want to emit you something" and "*Can you emit me?" – StoneyB Dec 14 '12 at 3:02

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