Look, Watch & See (What's the difference?!) - Podcast Episode 4

Audio Transcript:
Look / Watch / See (When to use them)

Welcome to episode 4 of The English Sessions. When to use ‘look’, ‘watch’ and ‘see’. I am your host and English teacher, Mike Butler. These podcasts can help you improve your English! Together, we will talk about grammar… pronunciation… structure... and have some fun too. Remember to visit my website, www.englishsessionswithmike.com to contact me for private lessons, and for more content.
You can also read the transcript of this audio as you listen to this episode.

Listen for these words today:
- To chirp. “To chirp” is a verb to describe the sounds a bird makes. “Birds are chirping outside”.
- A ‘bug’ is another word for ‘insect’. “There is a bug outside my window”.

- To perceive. “To perceive” is to become aware of something by using your senses.
- “To chase” means to pursue, or run after something. “The lion chased the zebra”.

I promised more episodes on contractions. They are coming very soon. Let’s first talk about three verbs. Look / Watch / See. They are all similar, but used in different ways. I will start with a story.

“It’s a lovely spring day. I am looking out my window. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. I see many things. I see a tree, a fence, flowers. I am watching a bug that is trying to get into my office.”

I used the verbs ‘look’, ‘watch’ and ‘see’ in my story. Did you hear them all? Let me read it again. Listen for the differences in how I use them.


Let’s start with ‘look’. “I am looking out my window”. My eyes are directed in a specific direction. My window is in front of me, as I record this podcast. My eyes are directed toward the window. I must look at what is in front of me, unless I close my eyes.

Let’s talk about ‘see’. “To see” takes a little more effort from the viewer. To “see” is more like “perceive” with the eyes. I see the tree, I see the fence, I see the flowers. I perceive these objects with my eyes. I can make sense of them. Ahh, trees are brown and have leaves. My fence is white. My flowers are pink.

“Watch” is similar to see. Do you remember my example? “I am watching a bug that is trying to get into my office”. “Watch” often means to observe with concentration, typically over a period of time. My eyes will move when the bug moves. I am putting in extra effort to concentrate on this bug! So, “watch” is like “to pay attention, with your eyes”.

Let me read the story again:
“It’s a lovely spring day. I am looking out my window. The birds are chirping. The sun is shining. I see many things. I see a tree, a fence, flowers. I am watching a bug that is trying to get into my office.”

So, what do we use with movies or TV? I saw a movie? I watched a movie? I looked at a movie? This is an example to show you that sometimes you can use more than one verb. To see a movie and to watch a movie are both common. For example, “I watched the new Marvel movie yesterday. OR: “I saw the new Marvel movie yesterday”. Both are correct, both are common, and both have about the same meaning. BUT, those are all in the past tense. You watched the Marvel movie. You concentrated on the images over a period of time. But also, you saw the Marvel movie. You perceived those images and made sense of them. So, both “saw a movie” and “watched a movie” are common. 

In the present, it is much more common to use “watch” for movies or TV. “Hey Bill, what are you watching on TV?”. “I am watching the news. Come watch it with me!”. Why is “watch” more common to use in the present? Well, just remember my example from my story. “I am watching a bug”. It is more accurate for what we do when we are concentrating on something over a period of time. Try to remember that time is passing in the present, so we often describe what happens with a continuous action. Right? I am talking to you. You are listening to me. So, my friend is watching TV.

It is important to remember that it is very common for more than one of these verbs to be used in different sentences. Just like with many different verbs, in many different languages. Don’t stress about it too much! Your listener will probably understand, even if you don’t use the most common verb. Don’t worry ! Learning another language takes time, just keep listening to what native speakers say and eventually you will feel comfortable with these different uses.

Let’s end with one more example that breaks the basic rules. A parent might say to their child, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!!”. The parent wants the child to pay closer attention to them. But wait, isn’t “watch” for when you pay attention? Exactly. It’s just another way to use ‘look’. In fact, there are TONS of ways to use ‘watch’, ‘look’ and ‘see’ because you can use all three of these verbs with many different prepositions! If you want to learn more about that, research “phrasal verbs” and “transitive and intransitive verb use”. And I promise, we will talk about these subjects more in future episodes.

Just remember, sometimes the most common verb does not follow these basic rules, and sometimes more than one verb can be used.

One more time with the examples from my story. “I am looking out my window”. I have my eyes directed toward my window. “I see flowers”. I perceive those flowers. I can make sense of what they are in my mind. “I am watching the bug”. My eyes are moving with the bug, as I concentrate on it over time.

Okay, if you need help, email me, or leave me a voice message. I am here to help. And remember to read the audio transcript of this episode at www.englishsessionswithmike.com

Well, it’s time for me to go. I think I’ll go watch my dog chase my chickens around my property.

Any questions? Write to me at mike@englishsessionswithmike.com . Leave a message for me on the website, www.englishsessionswithmike.com and I will play it on the podcast. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast so you won’t miss an episode. Visit www.englishsessionswithmike.com for more content. Please rate and review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Until next time, this is Mike signing off.



  1. Those three verbs won't have any more secret from me ! thank you.


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