Are the following sentences grammatical?

The summer of 2000 saw me in a research project at a museum in Africa.

The summer of 2000 saw me doing a research project at a museum in Africa.

The verb "see" has a definition "Be the time or setting of (something)", according to the ODO. So is the above usage correct?

Since the ODO definition says "time or setting", does the subject of "see" in this sense have to be a time or time period? All the example sentences I have seen seem to point to that.

However, just came across this question: Usage of "See" Phrases

Also I have found several instances where the subject of "see" is neither time or a sentient being. Do these fall under the same usage? Are these instances grammatical?

The project, dubbed the "Holiday Hole," saw online donors contribute more than $100,573 -- or, as organizers called it, "money thrown in the hole" -- for the frivolous dig. (source: CNN)

Part-commentary on the way we live today and part-experiment, the project saw stacks of books accompanied only by a simple note that encouraged passers-by to take a book for free, read it and on completing the book, email me. (source)

Different stages of the project saw dramatic shift of winds, particularly when it came to conflict areas. (source)

  • Grammatical, yes, but more than a little strange. You're treating your activity or involvement in the project as an event that took place or a development that happened during the specified time frame. The 18th century saw an explosion in the number of London banks. The 18th century saw the establishment of physiology as an individual discipline. The phrase of something in the ODO's definition is misleading in its generality.
    – TimR
    Mar 28, 2018 at 19:39
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Does the subject of "see" in this sense have to be a time or time period? All the example sentences I have seen seem to point to that.
    – Eddie Kal
    Mar 28, 2018 at 19:47
  • Yes, it must be a reference to a time period.
    – TimR
    Mar 28, 2018 at 19:50
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo As I was trying to see if a similar question has been answered, I came across this: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/27143/usage-of-see-phrases Now I am confused again...
    – Eddie Kal
    Mar 28, 2018 at 20:16
  • I disagree with that answer.
    – TimR
    Mar 28, 2018 at 20:27

1 Answer 1


On a semantic level, I would paraphrase this construction:

The {time-setting} saw {noteworthy event or development}


{noteworthy event or development} happened or came to pass during {time-setting}.

The subject of see with this meaning must be understandable as a time-span or as happening over a time-span. Nouns like undertaking and project, insofar as they refer to a duration, are acceptable.

The age saw... the millennium saw... The 1930s saw .... The undertaking saw.... The project saw .... The development saw ... The voyage saw... The mission saw ... The semester saw ... The season saw ... The inning saw ... The game saw .... The tournament saw ... etc etc

We would not say:

The ship saw acts of great bravery.

because ship does not refer to or have a duration.

But we could say

The battle saw acts of great bravery.

because a battle does have duration.

The register of this construction is somewhat "heightened" and it is not typically used with the Quotidien but with the Noteworthy. It is a synonym for the verb witnessed.

We wouldn't say

The afternoon saw little Johnny skin his knee, play a game of hide-and-go-seek, and then enjoy a snack of peanut butter and crackers.

not unless we were striving to be humorously mock-heroic, raising these minor events in the life of a child to a level they do not usually occupy.

In the same way

The summer of 2000 saw me in a research project at a museum in Africa.

could sound rather grandiloquent. It's not ungrammatical, but unless the statement is part of a narrative, it would sound odd. It does not state the fact neutrally.

  • Sometimes metonymy can be a problem as in “the ship saw bravery”
    – Tim
    Mar 29, 2018 at 14:59
  • Not sure what you mean by "can be a problem".
    – TimR
    Mar 29, 2018 at 17:17
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo - I'm not sure what that means, either, but I will say this: it was originally posted as an answer. After it got flagged, I converted it to a comment. It just seemed like the comment might be better under your answer than under the question itself.
    – J.R.
    Mar 30, 2018 at 17:27

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