Look, Watch and See – What’s the Difference?

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Level: Intermediate    Reading Time: 5 minutes    Category: Vocabulary

 

 

Look, watch and see are 3 common verbs that are talking about using your eyes.

In lots of languages, there is only one word for this, but in English, we have three. This means that it can be difficult to choose the correct one.

We do have some rules in English that will help you to choose the correct verb depending on the situation. 

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to use these verbs like a native and speak with confidence!

 

how to use Look, watch and See?

Although they are all verbs and they are all related to the eyes, they are three different verbs and they are used in three different ways. 

It is important to note that in this article we are talking about the verbs. Watch and look can be nouns (you know, like the thing on your wrist that tells you the time) but we are focusing on the verbs in this lesson.

It is really common to also find prepositions of time: in, on and at in sentences with these verbs, so it might be a good idea to learn about them too.

How to use watch.

Watch is a verb that means to move your eyes and focus on something. This is an intentional action. We do this because we expect that the thing will move, change or evolve in some way while we are focussing on it.

 

When do we use watch?

We usually use watch in sentences when we are talking about things like…

  • movies,
  • sports events,
  • TV shows,
  • YouTube videos.

 

We also use watch when we focus on something for a long period of time. Even if that thing doesn’t really move, or change during that time period. 

 

Finally, we don’t use watch when we are talking about public performances. In those cases, we usually use the verb see, but we will talk about that later.

 

Example Sentences:

Here are some example sentences that use watch:

  • I usually watch TV in bed.
  • He is always watching YouTube on his iPad.
  • We watched the ocean from the balcony.
  • I love to watch new TV shows on Netflix
  • Are you watching the news right now? It’s crazy!
 

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How to use Look.

Look is similar to watch as in you move your eyes to focus on something. The big difference is that you don’t expect the thing you focus on to move or change. It might do, but you are not expecting it to.

 

When do we use look?

When you want to talk about the following topics, you should use the verb “look”.

  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Websites
  • Timetables
  • Art

 

Another thing you need to remember is that when you have an object, you need to use the preposition at. Like this…

Look + at + object.

 

It is quite common to use this verb when we talk about windows. We look out of the window, rather than watch the window. 

 

Example sentences:

Check out at these examples:

  • Look out! The floor is slippery!
  • What are you looking at?
  • He is always looking for new ways to make money
  • She loves looking at twitter during her lunch break.
  • My cat loves looking out of the window at the birds.

How to use See.

See is quite different to the other verbs because see doesn’t require any effort or thought. It just kind of happens.

You don’t need to try to see something because it is all automatic. We often use see when we notice something with our eyes. It is usually the case that we didn’t expect it to happen and we are a bit surprised.

 

We also use this verb when we ask other people if they witnessed something.  When we are talking about the fact of viewing something, we use see.

 

Another meaning of see is when we are talking about visiting a person such as a doctor or dentist. Usually this is because you have an appointment or you need their help.

 

Finally, we use see when we are talking about public performances. If you go to different place to view something, we usually use the verb see. This is common when you go to places like cinemas, stadiums and public events.

 

Example Sentences:

Here are some example sentences using see:

  • I saw Ric in the supermarket this morning.
  • She saw a dentist last week about her toothache.
  • He saw a movie with his girlfriend last night.
  • Did you see the footie last night?
  • She said she saw an alien but no one believes her.

Look, watch and see infographic

What are some common mistakes with look, watch and see?

There are a few common mistakes that learners make that I want to mention here. 

Look uses the preposition at if there is an object in the sentence:

  • It’s nice to look at the scenery from the lakeside. 
  • It’s nice to look the scenery from the lakeside.

 

You can’t use watch if you are not trying to see something.

  • If you go to the zoo, you might see a gorilla.
  • If you go to the zoo, you might watch a gorilla.

 

We usually use look when we are talking about phones and tablets:

  • I always look at Instagram on my phone when I am taking the train.
  • I always watch Instagram on my phone when I am taking the train.

 

Check out this video for more details:

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