Energy exchange between potential energy and ion kinetic energy in an ion acoustic wave is considered. In order to investigate the linear Landau damping or growth, the energy is calculated by use of first‐order quantities only so that nonlinear effects are not involved. It is found that for ion acoustic waves that are growing or damped in space the time average of the sum of the potential and the kinetic energy density is independent of position. Energy absorption spectra in particle velocity space are calculated; they are relatively broad and complicated functions. This shows that plasma ions of all velocities exchange energy with the wave.