The verbs watch, look and see have very similar meanings. The best way to learn them is in context with nouns and in phrases. Below, we explain the different uses of each verb.
Agnes has a busy weekend coming up. Tonight she’s seeing a mysterous new man for the first time.
She wants to look good, so she puts in her contact lenses – she can’t see without them – and looks at herself in the mirror.
Tomorrow, she is looking after her grandson. They are going to watch a football match together.
- see = have the power of sight
- Agnes can’t see without her contact lenses.
- If you open your eyes you see. That means we see even if we are not paying attention, or do not want to see. The act of seeing is passive.
- When she looks out the window, she sees her neighbours gardening.
Use can + see (not:
a progressive tense) to express that we see something in the moment of speaking.
- Agnes can see some new wrinkles around her eyes. (not:
Agnes is seeing some new wrinkles.)
Use see in sentences with whether and if.
- Agnes is trying to see whether her expensive eye cream works.
Seeing – different meanings
Using see in the progressive form changes the meaning.
- Agnes is seeing a new man.
Agnes is dating a new man.
- I’m seeing Phoebe later.
I’m meeting Phoebe later.
- look = direct your eyes in a particular direction, to concentrate or to pay attention to something we can see
- Agnes looks in the mirror every morning.
Looking is active. We choose to look at things, looking is a deliberate action
- Use the preposition at when the verb has an object (look + at + object).
- She looks at herself in the mirror.
Agnes enjoys looking at the flowers in her garden.
- Use look + adjective to express someone’s appearance.
- Agnes wants to look good.
- Look after and look for are phrasal verbs. They have different meanings. There are quite a few phrasal verbs with look. For more information see: phrasal verbs with look.
- Agnes looks after her grandchildren on Mondays.
look after = take care
- Her neighbours are looking for their cat in the garden.
look for = search for
- watch = look at somebody/something for a longer period of time
- Sometimes, Agnes watches her neighbours doing the gardening.
- We watch things because they devolp, change or are in progress.
- This weekend, she’s taking her grandson to watch a football match.
- We watch TV but we can see or watch TV programmes and films.
- Agnes watches TV with her friends, but tonight they are going to the cinema to see/watch a film.