Substantial loss of cochlear function is required to elevate pure-tone thresholds to the severe hearing loss range; yet, individuals with severe or profound hearing loss continue to rely on hearing for communication. Despite the impairment, sufficient information is encoded at the periphery to make acoustic hearing a viable option. However, the probability of significant cochlear and/or neural damage associated with the loss has consequences for sound perception and speech recognition. These consequences include degraded frequency selectivity, which can be assessed with tests including psychoacoustic tuning curves and broadband rippled stimuli. Because speech recognition depends on the ability to resolve frequency detail, a listener with severe hearing loss is likely to have impaired communication in both quiet and noisy environments. However, the extent of the impairment varies widely among individuals. A better understanding of the fundamental abilities of listeners with severe and profound hearing loss and the consequences of those abilities for communication can support directed treatment options in this population.