See Look Watch Hear Listen

English Vocabulary


The use of the verbs See, Look, Watch, Hear and Listen is very specific in most cases and are not normally interchangeable as is the case in other languages. It is therefore important to understand the basis of the use of each of these verbs.


See vs. Look vs. Watch

See is a verb of perception, it is a sense. It is automatic and doesn't require a decision to use this sense. It is associated with things that we can't avoid.

Look and Watch are action verbs that require a decision for you to use them. They never happen automatically.

Look is used to suggest a direction for your eyes. Usually we use this verb when the things we look at doesn't move. 

Look - camera, prices, mirror, sky.

Watch is when we talk about concentrating on something, like a movie or sports. Using watch suggests there is a movement involved, so you can use that for TV or movies.

Watch - a movie, a TV program, a football match.


Hear vs. Listen

Hear is another of our senses and so accordingly it is automatic. It does not require a conscious decision.

Hear - a noise, a voice, an explosion.

Listen is an action verb and you need to make a decision to do it. You can choose if you listen to something or not. For example you can hear somebody talking but you need to listen to them to understand what they are saying.

Listen - music, a speech.

The difference between HEAR and LISTEN in English

Examples of each verb

It is also important to remember that the verb LISTEN is always followed by TO. Review the examples above and you will see this principle.

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