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Right now I am looking at the board. I see/am seeing some words on the board.

Would you possibly readily or simply tell me which one? And why?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

The general "rule" is that with stative verbs—verbs which express a state rather than an event, such as know, love, see—English doesn’t use progressive constructions.

This is because the function of the progressive is to ‘recategorize’ a non-stative verb as stative. When you say I was writing my paper instead of I wrote my paper, what you are doing is getting “inside” the event, looking at a time when you were in a state of running. With stative verbs, this is unnecessary. The progressive construction doesn’t add any meaning. I see him means, usually, exactly the same thing as I am seeing him—so we use the simpler form, saw.

But language evolves, and people discover new uses for existing forms. Over the last century or so English has developed two sorts of new use for progressive statives:

  • to express new meanings — When we say John is being a jerk, we don’t mean John is a jerk, we mean John is behaving like a jerk. When we say John is seeing Mary, we don’t mean John perceives Mary, we mean John is dating Mary.
  • to express change of state (or potential change of state) — With see, for instance, you might hear We’re seeing more and more students arrive in college without adequate knowledge of grammar. This emphasizes the fact that they used to be very few such students, but now there are many: there has been a change of state, not in their ‘seeing’ but in what they see.

    Thus, you would ordinarily use see to talk about what you see on your computer screen. But if you are talking to a tech support person, describing what you don’t understand or you wish would change, the two of you might very well use seeing: “Click the 'Save As' button ... now, what are you seeing?” or “OMG, I’m seeing the Blue Screen of Death!

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So, is it better to write: say, in this situation which I have asked, in my original question – nima Mar 21 '14 at 18:06
@nima_persian Again, it depends on context. Are you just reporting what words are there? - then "I see". If you're reporting that the words have changed, or planning on changing them, then "I'm seeing". – StoneyB Mar 21 '14 at 18:35

Generally, when a verb refers to passive sensory observation (like "see/hear" but not like "look/listen"), we use the present, and not the present progressive.


  • I hear a noise.
  • I see something funny.
  • I smell food.
  • I taste something bitter in this dish.

In all of these sentences, the present progressive makes sense, but sounds a little foreign.

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I think with prepositional phrases after the subject and action, "am seeing" doesn't sound that foreign, but your point is correct without the prepositional phrases. – David Wilkins Mar 21 '14 at 15:27
@DavidWilkins So "I taste" could become "I am tasting" without sounding odd, but the others would sound odd if the progressive were used? To my ear, all four may or may not sound odd in different contexts, but the presence or absence of a prepositional phrase seems to make no difference. – Kyle Strand Mar 21 '14 at 22:35
Yes! While there is nothing ungrammatical about I am seeing or I am tasting, we just don't often express it that way. Here is a cool Ngram, if you care to see it yourself. Same goes for smell & taste. I'm impressed by this answer – although I've never been taught this, it seems to be true. – J.R. Mar 22 '14 at 10:54

I would use "I am seeing" as opposed to "I see" because the emphasis is the moment, now, and not the action, "see".

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