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8 WATCH [transitive] to watch a television programme, play, film etc

Did you see that programme on monkeys last night?

We’re going to see ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tonight.


1 LOOK [intransitive, transitive] to look at someone or something for a period of time, paying attention to what is happening

Do you mind if I watch?

We sat and watched the sunset.

watch carefully/closely/intently etc

He watched helplessly as Paula fell into the icy water.

Watch carefully. You may learn something.

watch (somebody/something) with interest/amusement/delight etc

Harriet watched him with interest.

watch somebody/something do/doing something

I watched him go, then went home.

Ruth could not bear to watch her parents arguing.

watch to do something

I watched to see how he’d react.

watch television/a film etc

The debate was watched by 97 million viewers.

Most parents don’t know what their kids are watching on TV.

watch what/how/when etc

It’s useful to watch how other pilots handle the glider.

So, how do native speakers say, for example, when a dad talks to his little child?:

Do you want to go see or watch some birds?

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Both could be used depending on context. The key difference is that watching something takes place over a period of time and that seeing something can take place instantaneously.

Do you want to go watch some birds?

Could mean "Would you like to sit for a while looking at birds?"

Do you want to go see some birds?

Could mean "There are some interesting-looking birds over there, would you like to look at them before they fly away?"

Both of these are completely reasonable English sentences. A young child would probably be more interested in seeing some birds and then doing something else, and wouldn't have the patience to stay and watch them, but that's a question for another site.


Now, there are some situations where "see" and "watch" are more or less interchangeable, including some given in examples in this question.

Did you see that programme on monkeys last night?

The debate was watched by 97 million viewers.

In both of these, "see" can be exchanged with "watch," and vice-versa, without changing the meaning. In general, however, "see" emphasizes that something happened at all, while "watch" emphasizes that it took place over a period of time.

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