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Study English Grammar and Writing Tips

Study English Grammar and Writing Tips

Using «See», «Look at» and «Watch» Correctly

See

:: To perceive with the eyes; to be aware of something through your eyes; to see something that happens without intention; to notice:

I see a white kitten in front of our house. (correct)
I look at a white kitten in front of our house. (incorrect!)
I watch a white kitten in front of our house. (incorrect!)

:: In such sentences, when we see something as we are speaking, we usually use «can» before «see»:

I can see a flock of birds in the sky. (correct)
I can see the sea now. (correct) not «I see the sea now.» or «I’m seeing the sea now.» (incorrect!)

:: But we say:

I saw him at the bus station yesterday (correct)
I looked at him at the bus station yesterday. (incorrect!)
I watched him at the bus station yesterday. (incorrect!)

Look at

:: to direct your eyes towards something:

My little daughter Jane looked at the doll I gave her. (correct)
My little daughter Jane saw the doll I gave her. (incorrect!)
My little daughter Jane watched the doll I gave her. (incorrect!)

Watch

:: when we «watch» something, we pay attention to it, because we are interested in what it is doing, or in what may happen; it also means that we look at something for a period of time, especially something that is changing or moving:

She watched the news with interest. (correct)
She looked at the news with interest! (incorrect!)
She saw the news with interest! (incorrect!)

:: But we can say:

I saw the news this morning. (correct)
I watched the news this morning. (correct)

:: After «watch» we can use an infinitive without «to» when we referring to an action that is completed:

I watched Kate play tennis. (describes the complete action; I saw the whole game) (correct)

:: We use an «-ing» form after «watch» when we are referring to an action that was continuing to take place:

I watched Kate playing tennis. (describes the action in progress) (correct)
Amanda watched her son driving around his new car. (correct)

:: After «see» we can use an infinitive without «to» or we can use an «-ing» form:

I saw David get into his car and drive away. (I saw someone do something) (correct)
I saw Susan waiting for a bus. (I saw someone doing something) (correct)

:: Sightseeing — If we go somewhere in order to look at something or watch something, we can say that we go to see it

My husband and I went to India to see the Taj Mahal. (correct)
My children went to the zoo to see the new lion. (correct)

:: When we are going to the movie theater (AmE)/cinema (BrE), we say that we «see» a movie (AmE)/film (BrE):

My daughter saw «The Matrix» last night. (at the movie theatre) (correct)
My daughter watched «The Matrix» last night. (at the movie theatre) (incorrect!)
My daughter looked at «The Matrix» last night. (incorrect!)

:: When we are already sitting in the movie theater, we say:

I’m watching a movie. (correct!)

:: To «go see something» applies to more than just movies. One can go see a play, an art exhibition, or what’s happening somewhere:

We saw «King Lear» last week. (correct)
We looked at «King Lear» last week. (incorrect!)
We watched «King Lear» last week. (incorrect!)

:: We «watch» a movie on television or DVD at home:

I watched an interesting movie on TV last night. (correct)
I saw an interesting movie on TV last night. (incorrect)
I looked at an interesting movie on TV last night. (incorrect)

:: We can use both «see» and «watch» in questions:

Did you see the movie? (last night, last week) (correct)
Have you seen the movie? (in your lifetime) (correct)

Did you watch the movie? (last night, last week) (correct)
Have you watched the movie? (in your lifetime) (correct)

:: Also, we say that someone «watches» television:

Tom watches a lot of TV. (correct)
Tom looks at a lot of TV. (incorrect!)
Tom sees a lot of TV. (incorrect!)

:: We can say that someone «watches» a specific program, «watches» or «sees» something on TV:

When I entered the room he was watching «Peter’s show» on television. (correct)
When I entered the room he was looking at a popular show on television. (incorrect!)
When I entered the room he was seeing a popular show on television. (incorrect!)

I saw it on television after the news. (correct)
I watched it on television after the news. (correct)
I looked at it on television after the news. (incorrect!)

:: We say that someone «watches» a sport such as football:

Linda’s father spent the entire evening watching a football match. (correct)
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