Can I use them both

Can you see it?


Do you see it?

equally, or there is a significant difference?

Similar examples:

I can't see it.

I don't see it.

I heard both on podcasts but can't notice any difference. I guess if I'm not sure if someone is blind or not I'd better ask "Can you see it?". But this would be a very rare case.

3 Answers 3


They are very similar. "Do you see it?" is a simple question of whether or not one sees the idea or object that "it" refers to. "Can you see it?" is asking whether one is able to see "it" or not.

Since if one does see something, it is also clear that one can see it, the two are pretty much interchangeable.

One exception to this that I can think of is letter recognition. If you say "Can you see that sign?" you may be asking whether someone can read it, depending on the context. "Do you see that sign?" would be asking simply whether someone can see it.


The differences are subtle.

An affirmative answer to "Can you see it" does not entail that you do see it.

A negative answer to "Can you see it" does entail that you do not see it.

An affirmative answer to "Do you see it" does entail that you can see it.

A negative answer to "Do you see it" does not entail that you cannot see it.

"Do" refers to the performance of the verb. "Can" refers to the ability to perform the verb, whether or not it is in fact performed. "Do" entails "can," but "can" does not entail "do." I can swim, but I am certainly not doing so as of now because it is very cold here.

In informal contexts, these subtle distinctions are often ignored.


If see is used in the literal sense of perceiving light via the retina, then:

Can tends to express the speaker's concern surrounding optical conditions, acuteness of sight of the interlocutor, the small angle subtended by the target in the field of vision, and so on and so on.

Also, "I can't see a thing" means the speaker is (temporarily) blind.

Do simply asked whether the interlocutor has discerned the object.

"I don't see a thing" expresses that the speaker considers their eyesight to be in order, but there are other circumstances that making visual perception difficult (and which the speaker wishes to be taken care of!).

Sample dialogue.

There, can you see it?

-No, what is it? Where?

The smallish yellow blob, near the crest of the hill.

-No... nope...

It just started moving to the right.

-Oh, wait...

Do you see it now?

-Yes, I think I do.

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