Why English Learners Struggle with Look at, Look for, and Watch Verbs (English Phrases Lesson)
Get comfortable using these tricky English verbs "to look at", "to look for", and "to watch" with our Learn English Through Listening podcast. Our lesson provides real-life examples and practical exercises to help English language learners confidently use these common English verbs in any situation. With a focus on British English, you'll also learn how to sound more like a native speaker. Click now to listen and transform your English skills.
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Learning English verbs is like navigating a maze - it can be confusing and frustrating at times, but
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More About This English Lesson
By the end of this lesson you will understand why this joke is funny! "Why did the English language learner look for the TV remote with a pair of binoculars? Because he was confused about whether to 'look for' or 'look at' the TV!"
- Spend some of your valuable time practising these tricky English verbs, you will be able to confidently communicate with others in a way that ensures you are not misunderstood.
- This lesson will provide you with clear examples and guidance on how to use these verbs correctly, so you can feel confident in your ability to speak and write in English.
- We understand that learning a new language can be challenging, and our lesson is designed to create a safe and supportive environment for you to learn, there is no need to feel embarrassed or judged learning our way.
Become fluent in English with our Learn English Through Listening podcast! If you're an English language learner who wants to improve your spoken English skills, then our latest lesson is perfect for you. In this episode, we'll focus on the commonly confused verbs "to look at", "to look for", and "to watch", which can be tricky for non-native speakers to master.
Our lesson provides real-life examples and practical exercises to help you understand the contextual usage and meaning of these verbs. By the end of the lesson, you'll be able to confidently use these verbs in any situation, whether it's a business meeting, a social event, or a casual conversation with a native speaker.
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Not only will this lesson improve your English fluency, but it will also help you sound more like a native speaker. With our British English focus, you'll learn how to use these verbs in a way that is natural and authentic, giving you the edge you need to stand out in any English-speaking environment.
Don't miss this opportunity to master these essential English verbs and transform your English skills. Click now to listen to our latest Learn English Through Listening podcast episode!
Most Unusual Words:
Situation Authentic Purpose Consolidate Glance Substitute
Most common 3 word phrases:
|A Long-Time||2||This has been "a long time" in the making.|
|In Front Of||2||This problem is serious, you need to get out "in front of" it.|
|Whether Or Not||2||We have to decide "Whether Or Not" it's worth doing!|
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Transcript: Speak Like A Native With These Essential British English Verbs
Overcome these common mistakes in English - differences between ‘to see’, ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’
Hi there, and welcome to this podcast. Today let’s cover something which English language learners can find difficult - and which is useful when you’re starting to speak English. Today let’s talk about some common English verbs, but these are ones which sometimes have people confused. These verbs are ‘to see’, ‘to look’ - that’s ‘to look at’ or ‘to look for’ - and ‘to watch’. And make sure you stay listening right until the quiz at the end - that will really help you learn this well!
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To see, to look and to watch - all use your EYES
Now if you’re a long-time Adept English listener, you may remember that I covered these in 2017. But that’s quite a long time ago and I think that they only way you could access this podcast is in a bundle now - which of course you can buy on our website. But let’s look at this again today because it’s an area that people find difficult. So ‘to see’, ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’ - what’s the difference?What’s the difference in meaning here?
Well, of course all of these verbs involve your eyes. That’s EYES. So these verbs all have similar meanings, but they’re not exactly the same. And the differences can really affect the meaning of a sentence. Let’s look more closely at the differences.
Are you seeing or looking?
It’s perhaps useful to introduce another idea first - the idea of ‘having purpose’. So ‘purpose’, is a noun - PURPOSE - and if you ‘have purpose’, that means that you intend to do something. You set out with a goal - you’ve got a mission, something you are seeking or trying to do. And the main difference to understand with these verbs - ‘to see’, ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’ - is whether or not there is purpose. ‘To see’ doesn’t have purpose, whereas ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’ do have purpose.
So if you ‘see’ something, SEE – the something is there in front of your eyes and you saw it, whether or not you wanted to. There is was in front of you - your eyes landed on it and you saw it. Whereas if you ‘look’, LOOK this means that you had a purpose, you intended to see it. The verb ‘to look’, it is often a phrasal verb - meaning that it joins with a preposition and has an object. So we might ‘look at’ something or we ‘look for’ something. To ‘look for’ something, usually means ‘to search for’ something.
You may have lost your keys, you’re about to go out and you can’t find them. Perhaps it’s your car keys, so you know they’re in the house somewhere so you might ‘look for’ them. ‘Looking for your keys’ is different from ‘seeing your keys’. If you’re looking, you’re walking around the house with a purpose. Someone else in the house, who isn’t ‘looking for your car keys’ may say ‘Oh, I saw them in the kitchen’. But they weren’t looking for them - they didn’t have a purpose. They just accidentally happened to see them on the kitchen table.
So the verb ‘to look’, where it means you’re using your eyes to find something, it’s ‘to look for’. And if you’re using your eyes to ‘examine something’, that’s ‘to look at’. ‘Look’ when you’re looking at an object then, needs a preposition and it becomes a phrasal verb, if it has an object.
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Are you looking or seeming?
If the verb ‘to look’ doesn’t have a preposition, doesn’t have an object, it has a different meaning. If you say ‘Ooh, he looks excited’ - that’s the same as saying ‘He seems excited’. It means ‘when I look at him, he appears excited’. You can tell the difference because no preposition, no object in that sentence. ‘To look’ means the same as ‘to seem’ there, SEEM. ‘He looks excited’. ‘He looked great in his suit’. ‘He looked disappointed’. I hope I’ve made that different use of the verb ‘to look’ clearer. And where I’m comparing ‘to see’, ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’, it’s really ‘to look at’ or ‘to look for’.
Are you looking or watching?
‘To watch’, WATCH - that’s also intentional, it ‘has purpose’ as well. And the difference between ‘to watch’ and ‘to look’? Well, it’s really a matter of time. If you ‘watch’ something - that action goes on for longer than if you simply ‘look at’ something. ‘To look’ usually means that you do it for a short-time, possibly just once. Whereas ‘to watch’ means you keep on doing it. The watching may be constant - you may hear ‘I was watching through the window all morning’.
Or ‘to watch’ may mean that you observe or monitor something over a period of time. For example, ‘I’m going to watch my weight this year’. So both ‘to look’ and ‘to watch’ have purpose and have intention - but ‘to look’ can be very quick, whereas ‘to watch’ means that you’re doing it for a longer period of time. So you might ‘look for’ your car keys, but you’re unlikely to sit watching your car keys. That would be very boring!
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Some examples to illustrate
An example to illustrate? ‘He looked at the television’ and ‘He watched television’. If we say the first one - ‘He looked at the television’ - it sounds as though he looked once, perhaps for 5 seconds. You could also say ‘He glanced at the television’ - perhaps it made a funny noise. And ‘glance’, ‘to glance’, GLANCE and it means ‘to look quickly’. Whereas if we say ‘he watched the television’, the sense is more like he settled down on the sofa and he was there all evening. ‘He looked at the TV because it made a loud noise’ - that’s quick. Whereas ‘he watched TV’ suggests maybe it was a whole film.
So those are the differences between these simple uses of ‘to see’, ‘to look at’ or ‘to look for’ and ‘to watch’. More examples?
- ‘I saw the sunset’ - means I accidentally looked out of the window when the sun was setting and I noticed it, perhaps while I was busy with something else.
- ‘I looked at the sunset’ - means I stopped what I was doing and purposefully had a look at the sunset - possibly for a couple of minutes.
- ‘I watched the sunset’ - means something more like I sat there, knowing that the sun was going to set and I purposefully watched it go down behind the horizon. I was there much longer.
Hopefully that helps make the difference clear?
And ‘Are you seeing anyone at the moment?!’
And just because English is a confusing language, a bit like the verb ‘to look’, there is also another use of the verb ‘to see’, which might seem to contradict - to go against - what I’ve just described. In UK English, we sometimes use the verb ‘to see’ to mean ‘to go and see’. So if ‘to see’ really means to ‘go and see someone or something’, we’re talking about meeting up with a person or going to see something like a film, a show or an exhibition.
It means we go with purpose because we want to see that person or that thing. ‘I saw my favourite auntie last week’ - it could mean you saw her unexpectedly - or it could mean you went to visit her. Which should be obvious from the context. ‘I went to see a good film at the cinema yesterday’. ‘I’m going to see my son play in an orchestra’. And the way to work out if this is the meaning? If you can substitute ‘to go and see’ or ‘to go see’ as the verb - that will tell you.
Another use? If you’re dating someone, you might say ‘I’m seeing someone’. This is just another use of the verb ‘to see’ - which is a very common. Because ‘to see’ is a common verb, it has lots of meanings. ‘To see’ is certainly one of the most commonly used 500 words in English!
OK. Shall we do a quiz to help consolidate this understanding? I’m going to give you some sentences and you have say whether you think the missing verb is ‘to see’, ‘to look at’, ‘to look for’ or ‘to watch’? None of these words would be absolutely incorrect - but only one fits well with the context of the sentence. You’ll also have to work out which part of the verb it is. They’re not all the infinitive - it’s not necessarily ‘to see’, ‘to look’ or ‘to watch’. It could be ‘watches’ or ‘watching’, for example.
OK, here goes. I’ll leave a space where the verb needs to go.
- Did you ... my shoes anywhere? I appear to have lost them again!
- Have you time to help me ... my shoes?
- I can ... kittens playing for hours and hours.
- Did you ... the postman today - it was different person to the usual one?
- I’ve spent time ... different types of bike for you - and I think an e-bike would be best.
- I ... Arsenal play Man United last week - it was a great match.
- I ... one of my oldest friends last night and we went for dinner.
- My sister was ... the news all day to keep up-to-date with the situation.
- He didn’t ... very happy with his meal in the restaurant.
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Answers to the quiz.
OK, how did you find that? This is the point where if you want to have another go at the quiz - or you want to listen to the podcast again before the answers, you need to stop and go back. Otherwise - the answers!
- Did you see my shoes anywhere? I appear to have lost them again!
- Have you time to help me look for my shoes?
- I can watch kittens playing for hours and hours.
- Did you see the postman today - it was different person to the usual one? I guess you could have ‘look at’ here as well.
- I’ve spent time looking at different types of bike for you - and I think an e-bike would be best.
- I watched Arsenal play Man United last week - it was a great match. Of course, you could also use ‘see’ - in the ‘go and see’ sense.
- I saw one of my oldest friends last night and we went for dinner.
- My sister was watching the news all day to keep up-to-date with the situation. If you said ‘looking at the news all day’ here - it would mean she ‘looked from time to time’, whereas if she was ‘watching’, it implies she sat down in front of the TV news all day and didn’t do a lot else. So ‘my sister was looking at the news all day’ wouldn’t be wrong. It just means something slightly different.
- He didn’t look very happy with his meal in the restaurant. So of course there, you can substitute ‘He didn’t seem very happy with his meal in the restaurant’. So it’s ‘look’ without a preposition and object.
OK. Hopefully that’s helped you understand the difference between these three common verbs in English and their use. I do like a quiz at the end - but let us know whether that’s helpful. Your feedback is important - it influences what we do!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.
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