English Verbs | Look | See | Watch

If you want to sound smoother in English, you need to pick apart the nuance in different words. It’s not just using vocabulary that expresses what you mean, but using vocabulary that sounds like how a native speaker would express the same point of view.

When you mix up the word choice, you’ll rarely reach the point of complete misunderstanding. But it’s word problems like these that hold you back from achieving complete fluency.

Let’s see if we can get a better grip on these English verbs: look, see, and watch.


This is the most basic. In a non-native speaker’s mind, it’s easy to translate “I see you” to use.

Grammatically, this would be correct, but it’s almost too basic to be spoken. The negative usage will be more commonly heard:

  • I can’t see.
  • I can’t see where I’m going.
  • I can’t see where I’m supposed to go.

The only other usage I can think of is using “I see” as a response akin to “Oh really”. In this way, if you’re struggling with your “r” pronunciation, this can be a good substitute.

A: We might not go hiking after all today.
B: I see.

Otherwise, “I see” will be too basic. So don’t say things like:

X I see the game.
X I see the TV show.
X I see the movie.


For any kind of event, the verb “watch” will be much more useful.

A: What’d you do last night?
B: I watched a baseball game.

A: What are you doing later today?
B: I’m going to watch a movie.

One other usage of “watch” is used to argue. When arguing with “watch”, you’re showing defiance. You’re calling a bluff. Note: you’ll hear this in TV and movies, but it’s unlikely you’ll actually say it yourself.

A: You’re not going to talk to that girl.
B: (Oh yeah?) Watch me.


Finally, look is the verb that’s dependent on direction.

  • Look (over there)!
  • Look at that.

So, if you wanted to say “I look at the baseball game”… it is a direction, but “watch” is going to be the best because it’s an event.

We could use “look” to identify a direction of distinction at the game:

  • Everyone was watching the game, but I was looking at the coach.

One additional usage of “look” is as a transition or interjection.

  • Look, you need to relax. = Hey, you need to relax.
  • Look, you just need to be more careful. = Come on, you need to be more careful.

Published by Jon Dao

Formerly, the Conversation Coach

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