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Which one of these is correct/natural?

1) Listen, I'm standing outside the stadium right now and I'm not really seeing any players or fans or anything. Are you sure the match was today?

2) Listen, I'm standing outside the stadium right now and I don't really see any players or fans or anything. Are you sure the match was today?

3) Listen, I'm standing outside the stadium right now and I can't really see any players or fans or anything. Are you sure the match was today?

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  • They're all fine. It's just a matter of "stylistic choice". Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 13:32

3 Answers 3

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They all sound correct and natural to me.

If there's any difference between them, it's a minor difference in the level of confidence implied: "I'm not really seeing" sounds least confident (perhaps I'm unsure if the people around me are fans), while "I can't really see" sounds most confident (but still uncertain). "I don't really see" is probably somewhere in the middle. But it's minor at most, and I don't know if it would make any practical difference in communication.

If I had to pick a favorite, I'd probably lean toward "I'm not really seeing," because it best reflects the uncertainty implied by the context. If I were more certain, I'd probably say "I can't see" or "I don't see."

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They all sound perfectly natural to me. Any difference between them is minor/pedantic at most

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Just for another perspective, I'd reverse the "confidence" order that @RyanM gives, purely because of the tone those different phrasings imply (to me). It's really about how they contradict expectations, or the claim another person is making

  • I can't see it sounds like the person doesn't disagree with the possibility, and they're trying to find some sign that it's true, but they're failing to do so. This sounds the most "polite" to me because of how non-confrontational it is, it's the furthest from calling someone else wrong - they're literally saying "I am unable" which isn't the same as "it's not possible". I can't is a typical way of softening things.

  • I don't see it sounds much more definite and abrupt. It's less "I am unable to see it", and more "there's nothing to see". It feels more like a definitive statement, a contradiction if it's a response to someone else's claims or beliefs, and to me it feels more "confident" as a result.

  • I'm not seeing it is pretty much the same as I don't see it, but sounds more informal. Depending on the context, it could sound a little friendlier (and therefore softer), or it could sound extremely coarse and dismissive if people are expecting that formality. "Yeah no, I'm not seeing it mate" has much more of a sense of "what are you talking about" than "I don't see any sign of that", so it could be far more confrontational and "confident", just because calling someone out like that is very assertive.

I think Ryan's reading with the last one was more on the friendly, softer side (so less of an assertive statement of nope) so it goes to show how much this depends on the person and the context! But that goes for a lot of language phrasing...

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