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So I got in an argument with my classmate over which sentence is correct: "I'm seeing what exactly you are trying to do here" or "I see exactly what you are trying to do here". Which one is actually correct?

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    When used in the context of "understand" or "acknowledge", then use "see". "Seeing" is more for an ongoing visual experience, "Are you seeing this?" Still, in most cases "see" is better, "Yes, I see what you see."
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 20:40
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    I'm seeing exactly what you're trying to do. Move the exactly. Then both are correct. In fact, you can use the present simple or continuous. It depends on your intention.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 22:42

3 Answers 3

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Normally, "see" used both visually and for understanding is treated as a state verb, unless emphasizing an active, ongoing sense (as Andrew noted).

However, I'm seeing two interpretations which are perfectly acceptable in correct English. These may not match the originally intent in the argument, but they're acceptable.

Firstly, "see" can mean to determine something. "I'll see who's at the door, and I'll see whether they're here about the car."

Now consider the following exchange:

Why are you looking at my wiring diagram?

I'm seeing what exactly you're trying to do here.

(You can also say "exactly what".)

Secondly, we sometimes inject a continuous aspect to emphasize something in process, as in "After a week of living here, I'm understanding why my neighbors hate it.". Therefore:

Maybe you don't understand what exactly it is I'm trying to do.

Just a minute... I think I'm seeing what exactly you're trying to do here.

(This sounds more natural when "seeing" is emphasized.)

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"I'm seeing what exactly you are trying to do here."

Is incorrect unless your reorder a word or two. IMO, it should be: "I'm seeing exactly what you are trying to do here."

or "I see exactly what you are trying to do here".

Is perfectly understandable. This one is correct.

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"What, exactly, are you trying to do here?" is common amongst native speakers. This might be the source of your friend's mistake.

"I'm seeing what exactly you are trying to do here." is incorrect.

"I'm seeing exactly what you are trying to do here." could be grammatical, but is non-native.

"I see exactly what you are trying to do here." is common. It sounds focused and direct, which is usually the intent of the speaker.

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