The English verbs SEE, WATCH, and LOOK at can be confusing. I made this post with 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.
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
A nuance is a small difference that is hard to see.
I will explain these small differences with some useful example sentences that you can use in your own English conversation.
See – Watch – Look at (+PDF)
|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
present simple I / you / we / they see
he / she / it sees
past simple saw
past participle seen
- “I see a black car in front of the hotel.” (present simple)
- “She sees a black car in front of the hotel.” (present simple)
- “Last night I saw a black car in front of the hotel.” (past simple)
- Jason has seen Avengers Endgame 5 times! (past participle)
“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.
Learn more in the WATCH section below!
“Did you see the game last night?”
“Have you seen the new Superman movie yet?”
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
present simple I / you / we / they watch
he / she / it watches
past simple watched
past participle watched
- “Let’s go to the stadium and watch the baseball game tonight!” (present simple)
- “Leon watches hockey every week. He really loves it.” (present simple)
*With sports events you focus on one area for a long time.
- “I watched 11 movies during quarantine.” (past simple)
- “Ursula loves tennis. She has watched Wimbledon every year since she was 6 years old.” (past participle)
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.
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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)
present simple I / you / we / they look
he / she / it looks
past simple looked
past participle looked
- Look at that bird over there. I think it hurt it’s wing.
- My dog just looks at the birds in the backyard, he doesn’t bark.
- A mechanic looked at my car, he said he can fix it for $200.00″
- Peter has looked at apartments in the city but they are all too expensive.
“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.