The original question:

We enjoy ________ the moon in the open air on the Mid Autumn Day.

A. to see
B. seeing
C. to watch
D. watching

The given answer is D, which is legit according to this Quora question.

But I wonder if B is correct too. When googling I found suggestions like "see the moon through a telescope" and something like that. And in an article it goes "How to see the Moon through a telescope". Besides that all I can find is "observe the moon", which seems to be more formal and accurate.

  • 38
    If the test gave only D as the correct answer, then whoever composed the test is a fool. B and D are both possible, in fact I think that 'watching' the moon would be boring very soon, since it doesn't actually do very much. Aug 10 at 6:19
  • 5
    Is there any good reason why the test maker didn't put "looking at" as an option?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 10 at 6:26
  • 12
    They're aiming at a distinction between "seeing" and "watching" but it's possible to enjoy seeing something or watching it: "I enjoy seeing children play in the street" (similar to "I like knowing that children are playing in the street because I've seen them by chance") vs "I enjoy watching children play in the street" ("I sit and watch them play for an extended period of time").
    – Stuart F
    Aug 10 at 12:39
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    @MichaelHarvey I'm inclined to think the test-writer is a fool. OK, I work with a load of astronomers, but if the moon was in air, open or otherwise, no one would enjoy seeing it because we'd all be about to die. It would also cover much of the sky. It's in space far from our atmosphere. It's also more interesting to watch at night, though you would be able to see it during the day. The observer might be in the open air, but that's a secondary reading of the sentence. "Mid Autumn Day" is also an uncommon translation of the Chinese (etc.) Mid Autumn Festival or Moon Festival..
    – Chris H
    Aug 10 at 15:03
  • 2
    @ChrisH - my mother said that when she was a girl (1920 to 1940, London, UK), some people avoided looking at the new moon 'through glass' (i.e. a window) or in a mirror, because to do so would bring bad luck. She did not say what happened to wearers of glasses or astronomers. She called it 'a silly superstition' but if she spilled salt, she always threw a pinch over her her left shoulder. Aug 10 at 15:11

7 Answers 7


"Watching" suggests intently looking at the moon. You would do this if you expected it to change, or you were guarding it.

"Seeing" may be unintentional. If you go for a walk and the moon is shining you might see it, but you don't concentrate on it.

Instead, it would be better to use "looking at". This means intentionally seeing the moon, but doesn't have the implication of guarding it. Or "viewing", which suggests something that you do for pleasure. On the other hand, "observing" suggests that you are looking at the moon scientifically, in order to learn something.

You might also be gazing at the moon, or moongazing.

  • 7
    To me "watching" doesn't carry a guarding implication in this context, but definitely one of expecting it to change. It feels implied that you're "watching the moon move."
    – Drake P
    Aug 10 at 14:31
  • 2
    @DrakeP I think he was describing the sense of "watching" more generally, as in a babysitter watching children. But you're right that this wouldn't make sense for watching something like the moon.
    – Barmar
    Aug 10 at 14:37
  • It's not as strange to expect a change on the Moon: e.g. if we could reliably predict impact of a meteor at a particular day and time, we could actually be waiting for an explosion at the lunar surface.
    – Ruslan
    Aug 12 at 11:59
  • 2
    I think "watching" necessitates that some time passes (in particular, in anticipation of changes or events occurring; perhaps that's what you meant by "intently") whereas "seeing" can just be a brief experience.
    – Wyck
    Aug 12 at 16:26
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    But, to be clear: seeing the moon, unintentionally, as you happen to go for a walk, may be something you enjoy as well, so B is certainly a reasonable answer.
    – Peeja
    Aug 12 at 18:11

The test question is poorly written. There can be a distinction between “seeing” and “watching,” but either is equally reasonable as the missing word in the example sentence. Claiming either B or D is wrong is, itself, wrong.

Off the top of my head, a better sentence to use to get at this distinction between “watching” and “seeing” would be something like

We sat _____ the Moon for half an hour.

Here, “watching” is better than “seeing” because “watching” describes a dedicated activity, while “seeing” is more momentary. (Of course, this sentence makes “to see” or “to watch” more reasonable answers, while they are simply wrong in the original sentence, so in that regard this sentence is not better. Ultimately, having one question mix a test of vocabulary in “see” vs. “watch” with a test of grammar in “seeing” vs. “to see” is probably a bad idea.)

Furthermore, the rest of the sentence is not very well-written either. Describing the Moon, or the seeing/watching, as being “in the open air,” is very weird—where else are you going to see or watch the Moon? Also, Mid-Autumn Day is the name of a holiday, and so should not use “the,” as it is a proper name. (Another way of translating the holiday, “Mid-Autumn Festival,” would probably use “the,” but “Mid-Autumn Day” would not.)

So, unfortunately, I suspect that the author of this question is not really qualified to be testing others on English language skills. Their own skill with the English language does not seem to be strong enough.

  • Generally agree here -- but I'd argue that you should either say "on the mid-Autumn festival" (definite article plus a non-specific festival day, not capitalized) or "on Mid-Autumn Festival" (where Mid-Autumn Festival is the holiday's proper name and thus does not get an article). You wouldn't say "on the Memorial Day", for example. Aug 11 at 21:34
  • @DarthPseudonym Yeah, and you wouldn’t use “on” either—it’d be “at the Mid-Autumn Festival” or some other capitalization thereof. Though it’s a little hard to be sure since it’s a Chinese holiday and there doesn’t seem to be widespread consensus on how precisely to render it in English—but “the Mid-Autumn Day” is pretty much right out.
    – KRyan
    Aug 11 at 22:22
  • On vs at depends on whether you mean on the day of the festival -- that is, a calendar date, regardless of place -- or at the festival, which is a geographic location, not just a specific day. Aug 12 at 12:41
  • 1
    As opposed to the multiple comments to the OP claiming the test writer is a fool, I find it much more likely that they simply are not a native English speaker, for all the reasons you explain, as well as the OP's chosen surname.
    – Kirt
    Aug 12 at 16:24
  • 2
    @Kirt: Some would argue it's foolish to compose test questions when your own English skills aren't strong enough. Or to not realize that your own English skills aren't sufficient. But yeah, it seems unnecessarily rude to state it that way. Still, the fact that this test question made it "into the wild" as an example people are supposed to learn from represents a failure of some person or organization. Perhaps just some random English teacher doing the best of their ability somewhere, with students sharing the question, and then failure by people sharing it further to not discard it. Aug 12 at 23:20

Watching would generally be considered a more on-going process, so fits better for something you take pleasure in doing.

You might, for example, see the moon as you drive down some dark highway at night, but you probably shouldn't be "watching" it if you are the driver.

  • Yes. The sentence refers to the enjoyment from a prolonged event, so watching is the more appropriate of the two. You could derive enjoyment from seeing something briefly, like the moon glimmering over the water, but the sentence doesn't say that
    – djs
    Aug 10 at 14:05
  • 6
    I think the test is maybe checking two different things at once: grammar as well as idiom. A and C are both grammatically wrong; B and D are grammatically fine. But as for idiom, it's a very subtle point, neither is as idiomatic as other examples that have been provided, such as "looking at" or "gazing at"; either could be the better choice in certain special cases. Basically a poorly thought-out question.
    – CCTO
    Aug 10 at 15:29

Let me start by saying that the test question is poorly constructed. There is too much ambiguity, and the full sentence doesn't strike me as idiomatic no matter what word or phrase is inserted.

That said, it's possible that "in the open air" is the key for selecting among the available options, though in either case anyone would know what you meant and not think anything of it. Technically, "we enjoy seeing the moon in the open air" might raise an eyebrow since it sounds like the moon itself might be in the open air (inside Earth's atmosphere). Option D, on the other hand ("we enjoy watching the moon in the open air...") lends itself a little better to the interpretation that the people are out in the brisk mid-autumn air and the moon is out in the cold vacuum of space where it belongs.

Again, this distinction isn't very important when you're talking to humans. Humans understand that when you say "The letter didn't fit in the envelope because it was too big", "it" refers to the letter and when you say "The letter didn't fit in the envelope because it was too small", "it" refers to the envelope. Our brains do a lot of amazing, intuitive work as we listen or read without us having to think about these things.


"I enjoy seeing the moon" is entirely correct, but conveys a very different message. While watching the moon indicates you are looking at it for an extended period of time, "I enjoy seeing the moon" means you enjoy having it part of a larger scene.

For example, "I enjoy seeing the moon on Halloween" doesn't mean I look at the moon on Halloween; it means I wouldn't enjoy Halloween as much if the moon was hidden.

If the statement was about me, "seeing" would be a far more appropriate response than "watching". I spend nearly no time looking at the moon, but do appreciate seeing it.

  • Oh. So "seeing" implies that you treat "seeing the moon" as a part of the festival? However if you consider the answers above, they said that "watch" is more intentionally, which might have a point because one of the major events of this festival is to look at the moon and enjoy the scenery. But you got your point here too. Aug 11 at 4:41
  • To watch is to look at or observe for a prolonged amount of time. This is likely something that is done intentionally, but that's not the defining trait. Example: If you were watching tv, you took more than a glance.
    – ikegami
    Aug 11 at 4:54
  • 3
    @SctopZhang not a native speaker, so take this with a grain of salt, but "watch" is more appropriate for events that have some duration ("watching a lunar eclipse", or "watching a sunset", "watching TV"), or when you have an expectation that something of interest might happen (could be desirable, undesirable, dangerous) - it's the "guarding" sense mentioned by James K (e.g. cops who are doing surveillance are "watching [someone]", babysitters are "watching [someone's kids]", etc.) Aug 12 at 7:56

The momentariness of seeing and the connotations of enjoying do not go together very well. Option B within the setting of the particular phrase of the question is decidedly unnatural (although a context in which it would work could no doubt be dreamed up). Said differently, if "enjoy seeing" occurs in a natural English sentence, it would almost always be followed by something that elicits warm fussy feelings which the speaker probably wants to evoke or draw attention to. I always enjoy seeing my two kittens play.

If you ask me to avoid the verb to watch and express something like the sentiment of the example sentence, I would say this it is always good (or invariably gives us pleasure) to see the moon out on such and such evenings, or I would say that the moon really adds to magic or beauty of the moment on such occasions, and so on. But I would be unlikely to use "enjoy seeing."

There is kind of a meta-skill involved when it comes to language test questions. As a native speaker and language professional, I can tell from the way the question is framed where the question setter "is coming from" and "what they want te hear". You could argue that this is not fair, because a question is supposed to test you on one particular point. You could also argue that it is legitimate, as it relies on a broader feel for the language.


Both are definitely viable, but as a native English speaker, I would have to say that "watching" is more natural to say, as "watching" is pretty much a way of saying "seeing with interest".

Also, "seeing" has connotations of a relationship, and therefore English has liked therefore move away from using seeing as much in this context.

  • What do you mean by "both"? There are 4 options! Please clarify thanks! :P
    – DialFrost
    Aug 10 at 23:34
  • 1
    Your final claim sounds invented. If you can support the claim with a reference, please do so. And fix the grammar, too, please. Aug 11 at 2:29
  • 2
    I find both sentences of your answer a little ludicrous. Watching is absolutely NOT the same as seeing with interest. And no sane person would think that seeing the moon has any kind of connotation of a relationship. Aug 11 at 4:47
  • I am a native English speaker and based my comment off of how I would use each word. Also by "both" I meant B and D as were referred to. Isn't this learning English so me putting my opinion of how I perceive my own language may be helpful? Aug 12 at 8:21
  • Your 2nd sentence isn't even grammatically correct ("English has liked therefore move away from"?? Perhaps you mean "tended to move away from"?). Anyway, English is generally fine with words having multiple meanings, especially as euphemisms around relationships and sex. "Seeing" is not embarrassing even if misconstrued (except perhaps about an actual person), so it's not avoided. It's totally normal to say "I enjoy seeing the occasional deer in the woods while walking on that trail". Deer are normally skittish, so you often don't get to stop and watch them, just a rare treat of seeing one Aug 12 at 23:30

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