Watching out for “look” “watch” and “see”

Hello my dears. I hope this post finds you well. Today I’m going to write about those pesky words “watch” “look” and “see”.

Photo by Shvets Anna on

Literal meaningsa recap

“See” simply means to use your eyes.

“Look” means “to turn our eyes in a particular direction to see something”. (Cambridge)

“Watch” means “to look at or observe attentively over a period of time.” (Oxford)

So, let’s say, as I am right now, you are sitting on your balcony. You “see” everything that is in your field of vision. Just the stuff that the light going into your eyes has bounced off. I can see my laptop, for example, and the words on this page.

Let’s say you hear some music. Maybe you turn your head and look at the house opposite, where someone is standing on the balcony playing the banjo. You watch them closely. Isn’t that Dave, YOUR boyfriend? You watch for a bit longer. A woman comes out, she looks at him, he looks at her. You gasp, he looks in your direction and sees you … OK you get the picture!


You say “I’m watching TV” when you are enjoying the latest episode of Tiger King, NOT “I’m looking TV” or “I see TV”, because you are looking at the screen “attentively and over a period of time.”

But…watch out! You CAN say “I’m looking at the TV” if you’re examining the audio visual equipment itself, for example: “I’m looking at the TV to see if I can fix it.”, and you can say “I can see the TV“, as in “I can see the TV. I’m not blind, woopeee!”.

Unlike with the word television you can use “watch” and “see” with films and TV programmes. The same applies to spectator sports, for example: “I saw Liverpool vs Manchester last night.”

Idiomatic meanings

Oh baby, there is a lot of confusion with idioms and other phrases with “look”, “watch” and “see”! Usually people don’t realise they need to use these verbs and use the wrong word.

They use: “pay attention” instead of “watch out” or “look out”

If you want to let someone know they are in imminent danger DON’T say “Pay attention!”.

“Pay attention” is something you say to a dreamy schoolchild who’s not listening to the teacher. It means “concentrate” or “wake up”, for example: “Pay attention Johnny! Stop looking out of the window”

This is not appropriate to say to someone facing a life threatening situation. For a start, it’s got far to many syllables. You can’t say it fast enough.

“Pay attention Harold, there’s an arrow coming towards your *splat* … Ah never mind.”

Image by Paul Barlow from Pixabay

The best choice here is “watch out!” or “look out!” – much more efficient!

They use: “search for” or “search” instead of “look for”

Now, I admit, “search” does mean to look around hoping to find something, but it’s so much MORE.

First of all you usually “search” for something in a specific place, for example, “The police searched the house for drugs”, whereas “look for” goes before the thing you are looking for, for example, “I looked for some chocolate

“Search” is also much more thorough than “look for”. If someone says “I searched the house for chocolate” they mean that they looked in every corner of the house, inside the sofa cushions, up the chimney, under the floorboards etc.

On the other hand, if police officers on the tail of a suspected drugs baron go up to their superior officer and say, “we looked for drugs in his house, but we couldn’t find anything”. They could be accused to not taking things seriously. On hearing this, their sergeant might say. “Had a look!?! I wanted you to search the house from top to bottom”

Maybe, if you lost your keys and couldn’t find them after looking for them for a long time and were desperate, you could scream “I’m searching the house for my keys” (as you race around the place like a rabid squirrel), but it’s generally not necessary. If you’re not dissembling furniture and making holes in the wall to find something “look for” will generally do.

They use “look for” instead of “look after

If you work in childcare and get these two mixed up you have a big problem.

“To look after” is to care for something or someone, for example “I look after my brother’s cat when he’s away”.

“To look for”, as we discussed earlier, is to look around for something you need.

Imagine this scenario: You’re doing a temporary job at a nursery. A mother rings up, “Hello this is Mrs Beans, who is this?” You say, “This is (insert name here), I’m looking for your daughter today.” Maybe you will have time to realise your mistake before the search dogs and rescue helicopters move in, maybe not, either way, don’t be surprised if the parents start to get trust issues.

Arghhhh there are so many “look” and “watch” and “see” idioms and set phrases. I’ll have to revisit this topic some time soon.

Anyway look out for yourself (there’s one!)

See you soon!

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