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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Language matters #1 : Look, see and watch

Disclaimer: I do not claim that this is an original idea. This pattern perhaps must have been explored at some point in time in the past. As far as I am concerned, this is a self-made observation. As long as the post entertains, I am fine.

Balamurali said, "I watched the movie." I retorted, (like always, half-attentive to the content of the message and concentrating on the surface words instead.) "Bala, what is the difference between 'look', 'see' and 'watch'?" We pulled out some examples one after the other.

The three words have eyes as the instrument. The sentences 'God is watching', 'God is looking', 'God is watching' (..... (1) )may make one feel that the three are almost synonymous. The sense here is of 'observing'. Is it because of the tense of the sentence which is present continuous? (To continuously see/watch/look at something means observing)

However there is a difference. One can 'watch' a movie or 'see' a movie but one rarely 'looks at' a movie. So are 'watch' and 'see' synonyms? Think again. One would say 'I saw you at the theatre' but one would rarely substitute 'saw' say 'I watched you at the theatre'. (.......... (2) ) ('I see the watch'/'I look at the watch' are fine - though the latter looks better. But 'I watch the watch' does not sound good.)

So maybe now we get the picture. 'Look at' is similar to 'glance'. 'Watch' is in the sense of 'observe'. Where does 'see' fit in? 'I saw you there' may or may not be a 'glance' per se. 'I was seeing you there' does have a sense of 'observe' for sure though.

That brings the point though.

A word does not have exactly one meaning. It can mean something different in different situations. THIS more than one meaning is what they call 'senses of a word'. SOME meanings of 'look', 'see' and 'watch' overlap and hence, one gets confused. 'Look', 'see' and 'watch' have many more meanings individually which are not the same.

Extrapolating, one may say that there is no one (common) 'sense'. There are multiple (common) 'senses' that coexist. What is my common sense need not be yours.

If you like this post, you may also like: http://aadityaandme.blogspot.com/2009/02/cognition-of-numbers-in-languages.html


  1. good post...yes..one cant define the line clearly between the closely resembling words...

  2. btw...u look like 'chatur' in 3 idiots...in the latest snaps...may be with specs...:) has anybody told u that before?? :)

  3. mhantat na"bhaasha valvaal tashi valte"...... :)
    both the posts are very interesting! good one