|to become aware of somebody/something by using your eyes||to look at somebody or something for a time, paying attention to what happens||to examine something closely (phrasal verb)|
|“I see a black car in front of the hotel.”||“Let’s watch the baseball game tonight.”||“Look at my new smartphone!”|
The English verbs SEE, WATCH, and LOOK at can be confusing. I made this post with a PDF to clearly explain this English grammar.
These verbs have a similar meaning but we don’t use them the same way. There is a nuance in their meaning.
(A nuance is a small difference that is hard to see.)
nuance [noun] a very slight difference in meaning, sound, color or somebody’s feelings that is not usually very obvious
– Definition from Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary LINK
I will explain these small differences with some useful example sentences that you can use in your own English conversation.
See, Watch, and Look at
Post Table of contents
- SEE – verb tenses and examples
- WATCH – verb tenses and examples
- LOOK AT – verb tenses and examples
- See, Watch, and Look at PDF
- See, Watch, and Look at Video
- SEE WATCH and LOOK AT Infographic
See – Watch – Look at (The difference)
|SEE – to become aware of somebody/something by using your eyes |
“I see a black car in front of the hotel.”
|WATCH – to look at somebody/something for a time, paying attention to what happens |
“Let’s watch the baseball game tonight.”
|LOOK (at) – to examine something closely (phrasal verb) |
“Look at my new smartphone!”
If you LOOK AT the bottom of this page you will SEE a video version of this post that you can WATCH.
~ See is automatic, you do it naturally. If something is close to you, you can see it without trying. It just happens.
“I see a bird on my balcony.”
Verb forms of SEE
Infinitive to see
“I love to see the stars in the night sky.”
Present tense see
“I see a black car in front of the hotel.”
Present tense third-person singular sees
“She sees a black car in front of the hotel.”
Past tense saw
“Last night I saw a black car in front of the hotel.”
Past participle seen
“I have never seen that car before.”
(Have seen is the perfect tense. Learn more about this grammar here)
Continuous tense seeing
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing now?”
Future tense just decided will see
“If you look to your left here you will see the house where Mark Twain was born.”
Future tense planned activity (TO BE) seeing
“I’m seeing a movie tomorrow with Keith.”
(Learn more about Future tense grammar here)
“One person in the group is green. I can see him easily.”
・In English conversation, it is very natural to use see for questions about movies and sports events, even though we watch them.
“Did you see the game last night?”
“Have you seen the new Superman movie yet?”
Learn more in the WATCH section below!
・ In English conversation, we sometimes use the verb see to mean meet.
“I saw Sam last week at the gym. He told me he got a new job.” = I met Sam at the gym…
“That’s cool. I’m going to see Sam tomorrow night. He wants to talk about going fishing.” = I plan to meet Sam tomorrow…
Watch means you try to see something, but watch is for a longer time. You focus in one direction for a longer time.
– Usually, we are looking at things that are moving. – We watch TV or we watch a movie.
“Do you want to watch a movie tonight?”
Verb forms of WATCH
Infinitive to watch
“I want to watch a movie this weekend.”
Present tense watch
“Let’s go to the stadium and watch the baseball game tonight!”
Present tense third-person singular watches
“Leon watches hockey every week. He really loves it.”
Past tense watched
“I watched 11 movies during quarantine.”
Past participle watched
“Ursula loves tennis. She has watched Wimbledon every year since she was 6 years old.”
(Has watched is the perfect tense. Learn more about this grammar here)
Continuous tense watching
“Are you watching any good TV shows now?”
Future tense (just decided) will watch
“I will watch Netflix tonight after dinner.”
Future tense (planned activity) (TO BE) watching
“I’m going to watch the rugby world cup semi-finals tonight after work.”
More examples with WATCH
I have never played basketball, but I like to watch it. It’s fun to watch because there is a lot of scoring.
Renting movies is easy but I like to watch movies in the theater once in a while. It’s a fun experience.
Get my See, Watch and Look At PDF, free!
Look at is a phrasal verb that means you try to see something, you focus on it. Look at is just for a short time and you are trying to see something clearly.
“I think it rained last night. Look at the ground, it’s all wet.”
Verb forms of LOOK AT
Infinitive to look at
“I need to look at the sales report again, I think there are a few mistakes.”
Present tense look at
“Look at that bird over there. I think it hurt its wing.”
Present tense third-person singular looks at
“My dog just looks at the birds in the backyard, he doesn’t bark.”
Past tense looked at
“A mechanic looked at my car, he said he can fix it for $200.00″
Past participle looked at
“Peter has looked at apartments in the city but they are all too expensive.”
(Has looked at is the perfect tense. Learn more about this grammar here)
Continuous tense looking at
“What are you looking at?”
Future tense (just decided) will look at
“If you’re having trouble with algebra I will look at your homework tonight.”
Future tense (planned activity) (TO BE) looking at
“We’re looking at the test results tomorrow.”
More examples with LOOK AT
“I looked at your X-ray. I’m afraid your foot is broken.”
= I focused on your X-ray (for a short time) and unfortunately (I can see that) your foot is broken.
*If you want someone’s attention in English we often use the expression: “Hey look at this!”
“Look at my new smartphone!” = Focus on my smartphone.
Check it out!
4 other uses for LOOK
- to turn your eyes in a particular direction
(On a train) If you look to your right, you can Mt. Fuji.
If you turn your head to the right you can see Mt. Fuji.
- to try to find somebody/something
I can’t find my friend. Can you help me look for him?
Can you help me find my friend?
- to seem likely to happen or be true
The sky is getting dark. It looks like rain.
It appears as though it will rain.
- to seem; to appear
+ adjective – Have you been working out? You look great!
I have never played cricket, but it looks fun.