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Could you, please, explain preference of one verb over the other?

1.

I have my teeth checked at the doctor’s.

I have my teeth examined at the doctor’s.

I tend to think that both are good, the former being a casual check-up and the latter if you have a problem. Probably, the first variant may be modified with “every six months”, for example.

2.

I have my luggage checked at the customs.

I have my luggage examined at the customs.

Here, I think the same difference of carefulness is seen, but I’m not really sure.

2 Answers 2

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A "check" is generally less thorough than an "examination". For example:

I checked the paper for spelling mistakes

I examined the paper for spelling mistakes.

The first says you looked it over casually. The second implies you spent more time, looking at it in detail.

However, in many cases English speakers will use one for the other. For example, a police administrator might say something like:

The officers examined the shipment when it crossed the border, so we aren't sure how the drugs got through.

when, in fact, the officers only check each shipment, because they don't have enough time. Examine sounds better because it implies a more thorough search.

In a similar way, you might say:

I'm just going to the doctor to check my heart.

when, in fact, you're actually going for an extensive examination because previous tests found some potential issues, but (in order not to worry someone) you want to make it sound less serious than it is.

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The usage is not the same. In the first case, you go to the doctor (actually the dentist) and ask for your teeth to be examined. Or for the casual inspection,

I have a check-up at the dentist's.

which does not mention teeth since we know that is the dentist's job.

But at customs, you don't "have your luggage checked", which implies you have a choice. They will check it whether you want it or not. So perhaps it is better to phrase it

My luggage is checked at customs.

The customs officer examines my luggage.

The difference between check and examine is marginal, although the latter may be more thorough.

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