6

Is this sentence correct?

"I am confused undecided about whether to see movie x or y".

Should I use watch here, or is see correct?

  • 1
    Either one might work, but confused doesn't make any sense here. – phenry Mar 27 '15 at 18:52
  • 1
    Seems to me that "see a movie" implies going to a theater, e.g. "We went to see Star Wars last night", while "watch a movie" sort of implies that you're watching at home on a TV. – jamesqf Mar 28 '15 at 5:11
  • possible duplicate of What is the difference between "look", "see", and "watch"? – It's Over Mar 28 '15 at 19:37
4

In OP's example either could be used, and it's unlikely many speakers would be aware of any difference, regardless of the exact supporting context.

To give a clearer indication of where many people would make a distinction, consider...

Tommy [playing on the rug in front of the TV]:
"I'm a fire engine! Nee-naw, nee-naw!"
Dad:
"Will you be quiet, Tommy! Me and Mum are trying to watch the movie!"

...where virtually no native speaker would use see. Although somewhat curiously, if it had been the news rather than a movie, I think quite a few (still a minority) might be prepared to use see.


Or an even clearer distinction...

Tracey [Tommy's older sister, on the phone]:
"Can you come and pick me up from the station, Dad?"
Dad:
"I'm just watching the news, but I'll be there in 20 minutes"

...where I think no native speaker would ever use see, for a movie or the news.

On the other hand, if I cast my mind back to 9/11, it's quite possible I had a phone conversation along the lines of...

Caller:
"You'll never believe what's happened! Turn on your TV!"
FumbleFingers [for it is he]:
"I'm seeing the news right now! I'm stunned!"


There's some useful information about the differences between the "troublesome trio" watch, see, and look here at EnglishClub (a site specifically aimed at non-native learners), including...

[seeing] may not be deliberate. As soon as we open our eyes, we see things
watch is much more active. It's like look, but requires more effort from us.
In general, we use see for public performances and watch for television at home

But I wouldn't attach too much importance to the last point. Apart from anything else, I suspect it mainly derives from the fact that public performances are generally less under the viewer's control (you see them because they're "there", and your eyes are open). In the privacy of your own home you make a positive effort to load a DVD, and you have personal control (pause, mute, etc. on the remote control). So there's often more "active involvement" (the second point above).

  • 2
    Interesting. When you're in the theater (present tense), you're always watching the movie. But, when talking about the movie in the past or furture, see works just fine. ("We saw Cinderella last weekend." Or, "I've got free tickets to the theater; what movie do you want to go see?") It's all utterly natural for the native speaker, but I can see how it could confound the learner! – J.R. Mar 27 '15 at 20:39
  • @J.R. I think your explanation is better regarding the difference between watch and see. You should write an answer that way. – user3169 Mar 27 '15 at 22:00
  • @J.R., user3169: I got called away before I could add something about why we sometimes significantly favour one verb over another, but I've added a bit now. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 27 '15 at 22:34
1

It might help to understand that watch and see bear the same relation as listen and hear. The first term in each pair implies an active relation: the person is in some sense paying attention to the stimulus. Seeing and hearing can be more passive.

I may hear a plane pass overhead, but if I'm not paying attention to it then you might say that I am not really listening to it.

Of course, at some level you cannot hear if you do not listen, and you cannot see if you do not watch - to some extent. It is a matter of degree. Paying little attention, especially conscious attention, versus paying close attention, especially thinking about what you are watching or listening to.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy