Look See Watch

Understand the Differences

Look, See and Watch are three related verbs that are easily confused. English learners can use this page to understand the differences between these three verbs. Examples sentences for look, see and watch will help you understand how use these verbs. Finally, there's a quiz to help you test your understanding of these key verbs.

Look (At)

Use the verb look (at) to say that you or someone else looks with concentration.

In other words, you look to see something specific. Look refers to seeing something specific one time, rather than over time as with the verb watch (see below).

I looked at the trees in the distance.
Tom looked at the picture and smiled.
Sarah looked at her sister and smiled.

Look is usually used with the preposition at. However, when using look as an imperative at is not used when there is no object.

Look over there!
Look! It's Tom.

Use look as an imperative with at when followed by an object.

Look at those people.
Look at me when I speak to you!

See

See is used to make simple statements. In other words, use see to note that you saw someone or something.

I saw Tom at school yesterday.
Did you see the beautiful sunset yesterday?
Mary saw an interesting man while she was in Chicago.

On the other hand look at and watch are used to state that you see something with particular attention. You look at something specific, and you watch something over time.

Compare:

I saw Jim at the party. (simple statement)
I looked at Jim's shirt. It was strange! (focus on a specific item)
I watched Jim speaking to Tom for five minutes. He seemed nervous. (watching the movements and actions of someone or something over time)

Do not use see in the progressive form as see is used to express a fact, not an action.

I saw Tom at the party. (fact, not an action)
We saw an interesting car on the road. (statement of an interesting story, not recounting a specific action at a specific time)

The verb see is also used to express that an experience is completed. For example, you can watch a film and see a film. If you see a film, you refer to the complete act. If you watch a film you speak about the action of watching the film at a specific moment.

Compare:

I saw a good film yesterday. (referring to the complete film)
I was watching TV when you called. (referring to the action that was interrupted)

See = Visit

The verb see can also be used to mean to visit, or have an appointment with someone.

Janice saw a doctor yesterday.
Peter will see the marketing manager tomorrow.
Have you seen a specialist?

Watch

Watch is used to express that you watch something in progress, something that changes over time.

I watched the children playing in the park.
She has been watching those birds over there for the past thirty minutes.
What are you watching on TV?

Watch is similar to look at, but it refers to an action that takes place over time. Look at is used to refer to a single instance when someone looks for something specific.

Compare:

I looked at the message on the billboard. (referring to looking at something once to understand)
I watched the debate on TV. (referring to a show that takes place over time on TV)

Exercise

Choose between look (at), see or watch to complete the following sentences. Remember to conjugate the verb in the correct tense.

  1. _______ that dog over there. It's so cute!
  2. Have you ________ the new film by Spielberg?
  3. I was _______ the children play in the park when I met Alice.
  4. I'm going to ________ the doctor tomorrow afternoon.
  5. Did you ________ the amount on the check carefully?
  6. Peter ________ Andrew yesterday.
  7. Alice is ___________ a show at the moment.
  8. The students __________ the information on the whiteboard.
  9. I haven't ________ Susan in a long time.