Is there any difference between the two?

What do you see?

What are you seeing?

  • So there is no difference, right? But maybe sometimes they use one instead of another just because of one may be better than another in a specific action – Abdulrahman Homus Dec 25 '18 at 12:30
  • Yes, there is. "What do you see?" is a simple present tense sentence while "What are you seeing?" is a present continuous tense sentence. – Michael Rybkin Dec 25 '18 at 12:32
  • Idiomatically, What do you see? can also be taken to mean What are you capable of seeing? (As a human being, what do you see?) The answer could be the wavelengths of light observable by the human eye. – Jason Bassford Dec 25 '18 at 15:06
  • @JasonBassford This is technically correct as to how present vs present progressive should be used, but I've never seen "What do you see?" used in that sense. – LastStar007 Dec 29 '18 at 5:30

There is a slight difference between these two questions, but it's not the typical difference between present and present progressive tenses. It's more about how long the seeing has been taking place.

"What do you see?" implies that the seeing just started. If you poke your head over a fence, your short friend might ask you, "What do you see?" And you'd say, "The batter just struck out."

"What are you seeing?" implies that the seeing has been occurring for a while. For that reason, it's much less common. If you've been spying on someone with binoculars, your spy buddy might ask you, "What are you seeing?" And you might say, "It looks like she's turning a knob. It might be a safe. She's been playing with it for 2 minutes."

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