Look! Watch out!

English has a very clear distinction between looking, watching, and seeing. Very simply, if it involves time and/or movement you are watching it. If you see something that isn’t moving (like this blog you are reading right now), you are looking at it.

Check out*(= look at) the examples below to see what I mean:
Cars on a race track

Things we watch (= something with movement, or that we observe for awhile):

  • A demonstration/a “how to” presentation
  • Movies
  • Plays (theatrical performances)
  • Races
  • Things we are cooking
  • Sports
  • TV


Additionally, it is important to watch where we are going!  If we run into someone they may scold* us by grumbling*, “Watch out!” (or “Look out!”).  Both “LOOK OUT!” and “WATCH OUT!” are used to warn someone of danger.

Similarly the phrase, “Watch yourself!” means to be careful. If I say, “I can look out for myself,” this means that I am able to take care of myself. (See the examples with children and pets at the bottom of this post)

  • My husband looking at Aspen trees
    My husband looking at                       Aspen tree

Things we look at (=observe briefly, OR without movement):

  • Animals (if we “look” for more than a minute or so, we are watching them)
  • Books/Catalogs/Magazines
  • Cars (unless we “look” for more than a minute or so, then we are watching them) We watch cars race in the Indy 500., We look at cars on a lot.*
  • Clothes
  • Email
  • Mail/letters
  • Other people (if someone holds our interest for more than a minute or so, then we are watching them)
  • Scenery
  • Screens of electronic devices (including televisions)
  • Someone talking (if they aren’t moving their body, or demonstrating something)
  • Things in a store

NOTE: Typically we go to the doctor to get something “looked at”, or “checked out.” Generally these appointments are fairly brief and the doctor “looks us over”* (= examines carefully). Occasionally, the doctor may say (s)he wants to “watch” something. This means that thing needs to be monitored* (=changes need to be tracked).

Things that can watched OR looked at:

  • Children  Φ Watching children has two meanings. 1. To “look after” (=care for, “keep an eye on”, supervise). Example:  Would you like me to watch your children while you do your Christmas shopping?, 2. To observe. Example: We sat on the park bench, watching the children play.
  • Pets/Animals Φ Pets need to be looked after, or “watched” much like children do in the example above. Example: I took my dog to a pet-sitter to watch him this weekend while I’m gone. 
  • The wind blow, Rain falling, Snow falling (basically weather events)  In the picture above, I could say that my husband was looking at the trees AND watching the wind dance through the leaves.

Additionally, the word see has several meanings. 1. “See” can mean what happens naturally with your eyes. Example: Did you see anything unusual?, 2. “See” is also used to mean “see clearly.” Example: I can’t see anything without my glasses., 3. See can also mean “understand.” Example: I don’t know why he can’t see how much I love him!

A student asked me what it means when someone simply says, “See?”  This means either: Can you see? (with your eyes like in the first example above), or Do you understand? or another way of saying this is, Do you “get it?” or even, “Do you see what I mean?”

 Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG  My Take On It

This last idea of “looking without seeing” is something that is familiar to many religions (certainly Jews and Christians).

Let us look with more than our eyes so that we can begin to see (=understand) what is happening.  Looking AND seeing will allow us to respond more appropriately.

Thanks again! Michele

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One thought on “Look! Watch out!

  1. A great example of our complex English language and why understanding it through your online teaching is so important.

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