the difference between words: see, look at and watch


Today I want to write about another confusion for many non-native English speakers: the difference between “see”, “look at” and “watch”.  Basically, the word “see” means that we can perceive something visually with our eyes; the term “look at” means that are focusing on something with our eyes; the word “watch” also means we are focusing on something but that it is moving, and we are following the movement with our eyes. Here are some example sentences:

I can see the sign for a Chinese restaurant down the street. Let’s have lunch there.

You were supposed to stop the car. Didn’t you see the stop sign?

I saw a really nice coat in the window of ABC department store. I want to buy it.

You should come and look at this picture. It’s really nice.

Don’t look at my face! I have a lot of pimples right now!

Just look at this room! It’s so dirty! We have to clean it up.

I watched a DVD with my friend last night.

I like to sit by the window at this cafe and watch people walking around outside.

My science teacher asked us to watch an experiment he was performing.

However, the verb “see” has a few other meanings which some people don’t realize. Here are some of them:

1. to date someone. For example:

I’m seeing someone now. We’ve been dating for six months.

2. to have a meeting with someone you already know. For example:

I saw my best friend last night. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

3. to find out some information that you don’t have. For example:

I don’t know when the delivery date is. I’ll go and see if my boss knows.

4. to watch a public performance. For example:

My friend and I saw a movie last night. We went to the new movie theater downtown. It was really nice!

So, if we watch a play or a movie in a theater, we use “see”, but if we watch a movie at home on TV or DVD, we use “watch”.


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