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See, Look, Watch – Common Mistakes in English as a Second Language (ESL)

Updated on September 29, 2012
See, look, and watch are similar but not the same.
See, look, and watch are similar but not the same. | Source

Many learners of English as a Second Language or ESL often make mistakes when using the words see, look, and watch in their English sentences.

It is clear why they frequently do.

It is because see, look and watch all have something to do with the sense of sight, which functions with the use of eyes.

They are all similar but not the same.

ESL learners can help committing errors when they know how these words are different.

Below is a brief guide on how to use see, look, and watch correctly in the English language.

When to Use See

We use see in the following instances:

  • When something or someone is right before our eyes, then we see that thing or person.
  • When there is very little effort on our part to spot something or someone, then we are seeing.
  • When we notice something or someone by chance, then we all of a sudden see that thing or person.

Note that seeing usually takes a short time, unless the thing or person being seen is quite complicated.

A quick act of seeing is called glancing.

Examples of See in Sentences

  1. I could see many people in the square.
  2. I could easily see you. You were wearing your eye-catching neon shirt.
  3. I suddenly saw Liam in the crowd. He waved at us briefly and had to walk away.

When to Use Look

Look is similar to see but still different in some ways.

We use look in the following instances:

  • When we exert effort to see something or someone, then we are looking, not seeing.
  • When we want to notice certain details about a thing or a person, then we try to look and not simply see. These details may include a thing or a person’s appearance.
  • When we are searching for a thing or a person, then we are looking for that thing or individual.
  • When we are asked or ordered to view something, then we have to look.

Note that looking usually takes a short time, unless the thing or person being looked at is quite complicated.

Examples of Look in Sentences

  1. I can’t read this vet’s prescription. Can you look at this?
  2. Just look at her. Isn’t she so furry and cuddly?
  3. Where is Cookie? That cat should be snoozing by now.

When to Use Watch

Watch and look are similar, except that watch requires more effort to recognize something than look.

We use watch in the following instances:

  • When we are looking at something or someone that is moving, then we are actually watching, not just looking.
  • When we are waiting for something or someone to change, then we are watching that thing or that person.
  • When we are waiting for the results of an action, then we are indeed watching.

Note that watching usually takes some time, unless the thing or person being watched is not so complicated.

Examples of Watch in Sentences

  1. I watched his action movie thrice at home. Each time I watched it, it sent my heart pumping!
  2. I watched him go up the stage to collect his trophies. It must have been a proud moment for him.
  3. I watch this TV series each Friday night. I cannot wait for the finale.

Notes on Watch and See

  • In many cases, we see movies in theaters and concerts in public places
  • We watch videos at home but see videos online or on computers.

Examples of Watch and See

  1. They’re going out to see the band play tonight.
  2. It is raining so they didn’t go out. They’re watching a movie at home instead.

Notes on Watch and Look

  • We watch something or someone if that thing or person can pose as threats to our safety.
  • We look at something or someone to inspect that thing or person.

Examples of Watch and Look

  1. Watch your purse! There are sneaky snatchers here.
  2. Look at him! He seems like one of them.

Mini Test on See, Look and Watch

  1. I can _____ lots of stars. They sky is clear this evening.
  2. _____! That is a shooting star!
  3. I _____ the moon wax and wane. It was beautiful.
  4. It was not easy for me to _____ the constellation. I had to use my telescope.
  5. I enjoy _____ stars twinkle all night in a cloudless sky.

Mini Test Answers

  1. see
  2. Look
  3. watched
  4. see
  5. watching

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

See, Look, and Watch: Explained


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      really useful

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      7 years ago from Sweden

      Helpful article and I learned something new although I passed the test! It is a good reminder since I don't always remember the rules behind how to use the words! Voted up, useful!


    • kulikoff profile image


      7 years ago from Moldova

      Helpful Hub! Thank you!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      I am so thankful I passed your test! Your lesson was very good and one that I will refer to as I write. Great topic and so well covered. Voted way up!

    • dmop profile image


      7 years ago from Cambridge City, IN

      English is my first and only fluent language, but I figured I'd check out your hub anyway. You have written a very helpful article for those learning English and probably for some who already know it. Voted up and useful.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent! This hub is so useful and well-written. Many of my students struggle to use these verbs properly and this would be a great help.

      Thanks for the wonderful insights! :)


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