See, look and watch – what are the differences?

see, look and watch

She looked at the painting.

She watched the painting.

Do you know which sentence is correct?

She looked at the painting is correct. This post will explain the differences between see, look and watch.

See, look and watch


We use see to talk about things that we notice in our surroundings with our eyes. It usually doesn’t take much focus and concentration to see something. Below are some examples of sentences with see.

  • Did you see that? It looked like a bird flew by.
  • I see her across the street, but she doesn’t see me.
  • I can’t see very well, it’s too dark.


We use look when we notice things with more focus and concentration. It is often used with the preposition at or for followed by an object.

When we look at something, we direct our eyes in a particular direction. Some examples of things we look at are: art (e.g. paintings and sculpture), nature, scenery, or things that need to be checked (e.g. an email, a document, a computer). Do not say ‚I’m watching a painting.‘

Below are some example sentences.

  • Will you look at this dent in the car?
  • I’m looking at the sunset – it’s beautiful.
  • She looked right at me, but she said she didn’t see me.
  • I’m looking for my keys. I can’t find them.


We use watch when we observe something with the most focus and concentration. It’s also an action and is used with an object. Usually we watch something that is moving. Below are some examples.

  • I watched the football game yesterday.
  • I watched the sunset while I sat on the beach. (more focused than looking at)
  • Will you watch my luggage while I get something to drink?
  • The police watched the criminal carefully before they made a move.
  • I’m going to watch TV later to see the new series.

See and watch

Generally, use see for talking about events or being at a place like public performances, movies, concerts and sports games .

  • I’m going to see a play on Friday.
  • I saw a movie at the cinema last week.

Use watch when talking about TV or movies you see at home.

  • I’m watching a movie tonight on Netflix.