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See, look or watch?

All three involve our sense of sight, but there are differences.

Seeing happens without trying. It’s what’s visible when we use our eyes.

Please open your eyes. What can you see?
As you get older, you may not
see much in dim light.
Did you
see the car hit them?

Look (at) involves an effort. We’re active and often trying to perceive something.

Look at this rash on my arm!
look up so I can put the eye drops in.
Look both ways before crossing the street.

Watch is also active. We use it when we’re observing something that’s moving or changing over time.

Please be quiet, I’m trying to watch the operation.
watched her bandaging my ankle.
Do you like
watching horror movies?

And speaking of movies, shows and concerts, what’s the difference here?

We watched a movie last night.
saw a movie last night.

Generally, we use watch for at home on TV, the internet and DVDs while see for going out to public performances.

In a nutshell:

He couldn’t see the clock.
= he had problems with his eyes or the clock was hidden from view

He looked at the clock.
= he wanted to know what the time was

He was watching the clock.
= he was waiting for a certain point in time to arrive

Remember these differences by making up your own catchphrases.

Liked this? See here, here and here where I clear up more common confusions.

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© Christina Wielgolawski