I used below sentence and someone told me that it is grammatically incorrect, but I cannot find the grammatical error in the sentence and that person won't tell me. Context is that right now I am seeing a man standing somewhere, so I just told below sentence:

I am seeing a man standing there.

Could an English grammar please help me figure out the error.

2 Answers 2


Strictly speaking, there is no problem with the grammar of that sentence. It fails on semantic grounds.

I'm looking at a man standing there.
I see a man standing there.

The verb to look expresses an action. We call these dynamic verbs. The verb to see (when used as a verb of perception) expresses a situation. We call these stative verbs. This semantic distinction has nothing to do with grammar and very little to do with a word's definition.

Many native speakers rarely use a present continuous construction with a stative verb.

As an expression of perception, to see is generally stative. As an expression of romantic involvement, to see is dynamic. We tend to interpret "I see someone" in the perceptive sense, but "I'm seeing someone" in the romantic sense.

  • 1
    Thanks, Gary, I've been aware of that tendency to prefer present simple over present progressive tenses - but never seen the dynamic/stative verb explanation of why before. I've also noticed an apparently similar trend to prefer past simple over past perfect tenses. Am I imagining that? Is there are explanation for when people do that? I edit fiction for amateur authors, and until now I've been telling them past simple tenses often sound more natural when the verb has an inherent once-and-done nature. Can you help me? Dec 5, 2018 at 0:08
  • I don't think you're wrong, but I don't think I can substantiate that claim, either. With dynamic verbs, participles express states associated with the action. The so-called present participle expresses a state applicable to things like actors, agents, and the role an ergative subject takes. The so-called past participle expresses a state applicable to things like patients and themes. Stative verbs don't need to be transformed into present participles to create that effect. They already express state in their finite forms. I'd expect past participles to exhibit some analogous behavior. Dec 5, 2018 at 17:38
  • Thanks, Gary. That is enough for me to go on workable principle to watch out for. It would have been nice to have a similar "rule" as with the present progressives, but unfortunately the creativity of English speakers in finding ways to say things more simply often goes beyond anything us linguists can classify into neat boxes. However, it is helpful to have conformation from someone with more relevant experience that my gut instinct is not misplaced. ;). Dec 6, 2018 at 0:28
  • @GaryBotnovcan This is the concept I was looking for - "Stative Verbs". Could you please recommend any good resource where I can good explanations on stative and dynamic verbs? ............. If you don't mind then can you please tell if my this sentence - "This is the concept I was looking for" is correct or not, and why?
    – pjj
    Dec 7, 2018 at 14:19
  • I doubt that my weak Google-fu would yield better references than yours. Sorry. But, yes, to look is dynamic, and "what I was looking for" is a perfectly natural expression. Dec 7, 2018 at 15:03

Your sentence is unusual but possible.

For example, in a spy movie:

Controller: Are you looking towards the clock tower?

John: Yes.

Controller: Okay John, tell me what you are seeing right now.

John: The only thing I am seeing right now is a man standing there.


There is more than one factor here (a) John is reporting what is happening right now and (b) As someone from Britain, I associate that way of speaking with Hollywood movies (i.e. ones from the US).

The equivalent British conversation would go like this:

Controller: Are you looking towards the clock tower?

John: Yes.

Controller: Okay John, tell me what you can see as we speak.

John: The only thing I can see at the moment is a man standing there.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .