3
  1. Watch out for
  2. Look out for (be on the lookout for)
  3. Keep an eye out for

I'm interested in whether these phrases have identical meaning or whether they are different. From most that I've found out, all of them mean "be vigilant and (or) alert".

In which case do we use each of them?

It looks like "watch out for" means "be watchful, or be careful" and "look out for" means "watch and try to find", while "keep an eye out for" means "be alert in order to find". Is this right?

  • 1
    Not enough for an answer, but "be on the lookout for" is a term used by US police [in movies at least], often abbreviated to [& pronounced rather than spelled out] 'bolo' [as in 'bow & arrow, low down'] – Tetsujin May 30 '18 at 7:36
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"Watch out for" can be used to give advice about threats at some point in the future. Things you want to avoid or be aware of because of potential danger.

E.g Watch out for the rabid dogs on your hike tomorrow.

"Look out for" can be used in a similar way to "Watch out for" but in my experience it's more commonly used for more immediate or certain threats and sometimes as an encouragement to be vigilant in a more positive sense (like you said "try to find" smth.).

E.g "Look out for that tree!" said Bob as his friend drove dangerously close to a tree.

Or

"Look out for any clues along the way, they will help you solve the mystery"

"Keep an eye out" can be used to give advice about something that would be advantageous to be aware of. This might be used for opportunities or threats.

E.g "Keep an eye out for any special deals at the market, they have some real bargains."

Or

"Keep an eye out for any bears, they might look cuddly but they'll rip you to shreds!"

In other words I would use "Watch out for" for possible dangers, "Look out for" for (almost) certain dangers (or sometimes points of interest), and "Keep an eye out for" for things of potential interest (or things which should be given significant attention) regardless of whether they're dangerous or not.

  • Oh, you are right about "Watch out for", I've remembered George of the Jungle. – SovereignSun May 30 '18 at 6:18
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They can all have the same practical meaning -- a warning of some possible danger or risk.

Watch out | look out | keep an eye out for potholes on that road. They're notorious.

As Josh indicates in his answer, look out and watch out can also refer to truly imminent danger, but I don't know if that use with immediate danger is more common than with risk in the not-so-near but still near future.

But keep an eye out for can advise to be ready to spot something that doesn't present a risk but an (easily missed) opportunity:

Keep an eye out for pileated woodpeckers if you visit the place. A few have been sighted there recently.

At the conference, keep an eye out for my college roommate. He may be at the session on Pindar, the "prize windbag of antiquity". If you see him, give him my regards.

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