See, Look, or Watch?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "See," "Look," and "Watch"?

"See," "look," and "watch" are easy to confuse, especially for English learners.
  • "See" means to perceive through the eyes. For example:
    • I see you.
    • According the veterinarians, dogs see the world in black and white with some yellow and blue.
  • "Look" means to apply the ability to see. For example:
    • Look at the stars.
    • I will look for you in the shop.
  • "Watch" means to pay attention to something you are seeing (usually something that is moving). For example:
    • Watch the white horse as it enters the water.
    • I watched the sunrise.
look, see, and watch explained

More about "See," "Look," and "Watch"

The verbs "to see," "to look," and "to watch" are closely related, but there are subtle differences.


The verb "to see" means to perceive with your eyes. In other words, it means to be conscious of your surroundings using your eyes. For example:
  • I see a ship on the horizon.
  • Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing. (Painter Camille Pissarro)
  • I saw you waving at me.
  • ("Saw" is the past tense of "to see.")
Of note, "to see" can also mean to understand (e.g., I see what you mean).


The verb "to look" means to deliberately apply the ability to see. In other words, it means to make a conscious effort to see something. "To look" is usually followed by "at" or "for." For example:
  • Look at the beading on her wedding dress.
  • If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. (Author Wayne Dyer)
  • I am looking for my car keys.
  • ("Looking" is the present participle of "to look.")


The verb "to watch" means to observe something deliberately. It is similar to "to look," but it implies more effort. It means to look at something carefully (usually at something that is moving). For example:
  • I watch the news every morning before work.
  • Don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going. (Humorist Sam Levenson)
  • The policemen watched their suspect for half an hour.
  • ("Watched" is the simple past tense of to watch.")

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? List of easily confused words

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