Difference between SEE, LOOK and WATCH

Many students fail to understand the difference between see, look, and watch and use them interchangeably. All these words have different meanings and should be used accordingly.

Let’s understand them one by one.

SEE

The verb ‘see’ means to perceive or notice something that comes in front of your eyes. When you see something or someone, you don’t deliberately look at that; the object is just there in front of your eyes.

Study the following examples to understand how to use it:

  • I saw an extremely tall man in the market.

(Understand that I was not trying to look at the man deliberately; he just came into my sight.)

  • I see some people dancing on the street.
  • What do you see in front of you?
  • I saw a crow sitting on the chest when I woke up.
  • I sometimes see him at the gym.

NOTE: The verb ‘see’ also means ‘to understand’.

  • I see what you mean.
  • I see why you joined that company.

LOOK

The verb ‘look‘ means to direct your eyes into a direction and focus on the object. The difference between ‘see‘ and ‘look‘ is that we see an object indeliberately, but you look at an object deliberately.

Study the following examples to understand the usage of ‘look‘:

  • Ashish looked at the mandala art and appreciated it.

(He deliberately directed his eyes into the mandala’s direction, focused on it, and appreciated it.)

  • He looked at my face and told me that I need a facial massage.
  • The boy is looking at the cake.
  • Look at this photo I captured a couple of days back.
  • Look at the guy walking on the rope.
  • Why are you looking at me like that?

WATCH

The ‘verb‘ watch means to look at something for a period of time and observe it deliberately. Watching is a continuous action of looking at the object and observing it. When you watch something, you generally do it for the purpose of enjoying it or observing it for some purpose: learning, breaking down, finding out mistakes, or gather information.

What we watch is something or somebody that is in a movement: an activity, a movie, a person, or a performance.

Study the below examples to understand the use of ‘watch’:

  • Everyone was watching your performance.
  • I was watching a video when you called.
  • She loves watching TV shows.
  • I was watching you from the balcony. What were you doing with the paper?
  • I can’t watch what he is doing.
  • Are you going to watch me eat this?

NOTE: Watch also means ‘to take care of something for somebody’.

  • Could you watch my dog for some time? I’ll be back soon.

SEE vs LOOK

The difference between the verbs ‘see’ and ‘look’ is the intention of the action. You don’t see something or somebody intentionally; you just see what comes in front of your eyes. But you have to deliberately direct your eyes into the direction of the object to observe it (to look at it). The difference is how you perceive your object: deliberately or indeliberately.

See vs look difference
See vs look difference

LOOK vs WATCH

When you look at something or somebody, you look at that object specifically. It does not involve observing any other object other than the object you are looking at, and it does not involve a change or a movement. But when you watch something or somebody, you observe the object and the other things that the object is involved with. The object that you watch is something that constantly changes or moves.

Examples:

  • I was looking at the icecream man.

(I was focusing on the ice-cream man. The purpose of the action was to notice the man.)

  • I was watching the icecream man.

(Here, I was observing what he was doing. I was noticing everything what he was doing.)

When you look at something or somebody, you just look at them and observe them. But when they start moving or performing something, now you are watching them. You may start with looking at a person and may or may not end up watching them. If there is no change or movement in the object that you are looking at, you will keep looking at it, but if there is a movement or a change in the object, you watch it.

Key difference: when we look at an object, we don’t have to change the direction of our eyes too often as the object is often static. But when we watch something, it involves the change of visuals. As a result, we often need to change the direction of our eyes.

Note: The verb ‘look’ is an intransitive verb and is followed by the preposition AT when we use an object after it.

look vs watch difference
look vs watch difference

See or watch a movie

You can both see or watch movies, performances, acts, concerts, sports, etc. But there is a difference between ‘to see a movie/game/act’ and ‘to watch a movie/game/act’.

We use ‘watch’ with these nouns when we are at our place and watching them. It could be your place (home) or someone else’s place, but you it is not an outdoor location: a theatre, a stadium, a club, a public sitting, etc.

But we use ‘see’ with a movie or any of these things when go to a place where these things are displayed for the public: a theater, a stadium, etc.

So you watch movies at home but see them in theatres.

NOTE: we use only ‘watch’ with some things: TV, DVD, TV shows, web shows, etc. You do all these things at home.

Sam: What are you doing tonight?
Max: I will watch ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and eat pizza.

Sam: We are going to see the final match in the evening.
Max: That’s great. I will be at my place, watching TV.

see vs look vs watch difference
see vs look vs watch difference

Practice set!

Fill in the blanks using SEE, LOOk, or WATCH.

  1. He’s gone out to ____ John’s latest movie.
  2. We ___ this movie at Jon’s house.
  3. ___ at this email.
  4. He was ___ us play.
  5. I ___ a beautiful bird in the morning.
  6. I can’t ___ at his face.
  7. We went out to ___ a movie.
  8. I ___ TV when I am bored.
  9. He is ___ Game of Thrones.
  10. Max ___ your brother hanging out with Ronnie.

Answers:

  1. watch
  2. saw
  3. look
  4. watching
  5. saw
  6. look
  7. watch
  8. watch
  9. watching
  10. saw

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