The following are found as to the verb 'see' in Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

  1. [transitive, intransitive] (not used in the progressive tenses) to become aware of somebody/something by using your eyes
  2. [transitive] (not usually used in the progressive tenses) to watch a game, television programme, performance, etc.

But, I came across 'seeing' meaning the above in the following sentences from New York Times. I wondered how the seeing's are justified grammatically.

  • In March 2019, scientists studying whales near Southwestern Australia stumbled upon a supersize spectacle that few had seen before — a pod of orcas viciously attacking a blue whale. “Upon approach, we were astounded at what we were seeing,” said Rebecca Wellard, the founder and lead researcher at Project ORCA, who was among the researchers who witnessed the 2019 attack. “When you come across a unique event like this, I think it takes a while to process just what you are seeing.”

1 Answer 1


These are not uses as a participle: they are uses of so-called continuous tenses.

The note on the definition is overstating the case: see is not usually used in continuous tenses, but it can be, to emphasise the immediate nature of the seeing.

I usually use an example from narration, something like "I'm watching the video. I'm seeing him open the door and walk along the passage."

In both your examples a simple tense would be possible, but the continuous tense evokes an image of watching as the event proceeded, becoming more surprised.

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