Scene and Seen

Illustration of Cordelia visiting King Lear
Illustration from King Lear.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The words scene and seen are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun scene refers to a place, setting, or view, or to a part of a play or film.

Seen is the past participle form of the verb see.

Examples

Sherman McCoy was charged with reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident.

In the final scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2, Stretch is shown in brilliant sunshine, waving the chain-saw triumphantly.

Quotes

E.B. White
"It was an evening of clearing weather, the Park showing green and desirable in the distance, the last daylight applying a high lacquer to the brick and brownstone walls and giving the street scene a luminous and intoxicating splendor."
–"The Second Tree From the Corner." The New Yorker, 1948

Thomas Jefferson
"I have seen enough of one war never to wish to see another."

Donald Barthelme
"The mouths of all the churches were gaping open. Inside, lights could be seen dimly."
–"A City of Churches." The New Yorker, 1973

Alice Adams
"In those days, what struck me most about the Farrs was their extreme courtesy to each other—something I had not seen before. Never a harsh word."
–Roses, Rhododendrons." The New Yorker, 1976

Use in Idioms

  • The expression remains to be seen indicates that something is not yet known, clear, or certain.
    "Over the past two decades, U.S. women have made substantial educational progress... It remains to be seen, however, how these gains in educational attainment will be rewarded in the marketplace."
    –Thomas M. Smith, "Educational Achievement and Attainment in the United States." Education and Sociology: An Encyclopedia, ed. by David Levinson et al. RoutledgeFalmer, 2002
  • The expression seen (its) day means to no longer be very useful, productive, or effective.
    "As for stir-fried Pekingese—well, that dog, too, may have seen its day. A formal proposal to ban the eating of dogs has been submitted to China's semi-independent legislature, the National People's Congress."
    –Michael Wines, "Once Banned, Dogs Reflect China's Rise." The New York Times, October 24, 2010
  • The expression seen better days means to be rather old and in poor condition.
    "It was obvious that, despite climate collapse and general poverty, London still attracted tourists... But it was also sadly clear that this was a city that had seen better days. Most of the shops were unfronted bargain bazaars, and there were several empty lots, gaps like teeth missing from an old man's smile."
    –Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, The Light of Other Days. Tor Books, 2000

    Practice

    (a) In the opening _____ of Citizen Kane, no one is present to hear the dying Kane utter the word "Rosebud."
    (b) "If I have _____ further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
    (Isaac Newton)
    (c) Standing on the hilltop, Lily looked down on the peaceful _____ below.

    Answers

    (a) In the opening scene of Citizen Kane, no one is present to hear the dying Kane utter the word "Rosebud."
    (b) "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
    (Isaac Newton)
    (c) Standing on the hilltop, Lily looked down on the peaceful scene below.