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Look at them playing in the water.

Do you use LOOK AT + somebody + gerund form?

How is this different from look at them play in the water?

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You use look at + object + gerund. However, in American English a bare infinitive (play) is also possible instead of the gerund. Other than this difference, there is no difference in meaning. So as long as we're speaking about American English here, both forms can be used interchangeably, in combination with the verb to look at.

For other verbs of perception, different rules may apply. Here's some more information on that subject: English Grammar: Verbs of Perception

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Either play or playing is correct on it's own. When adding a phase at the end (in the water) use playing, not play.

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Personally, I would avoid using "Look at them playing in the water.", but instead I would include the use of "just" or a comma before playing. The reason for this is because the words "them playing" are next to each other, and this sounds wrong to our ears because typically "them playing" is incorrect (it would usually be "they are playing" or "playing with them"). Adding a word like "just" or a comma for a natural pause in the sentence would help it sound better.

Try this instead:

Look at them just playing in the water.

or even

Just look at them, playing in the water.

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  • Thanks. Can you tell me why "them playing" is incorrect? I see him playing; I see them playing; I see you eating. – Joe Kim Jul 3 '15 at 21:49
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Look at can be followed by object + -ing form and also object + infinitive.

Look at them playing in the water

Look at them play in the water

The infinitive suggests that they are in the water, but may not be in the process of doing anything; an -ing form suggests that they are in the process of 'playing'.

For the grammar source check Swan, Practical English Usage, 242, pg. 223.

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Both are perfectly possible. They might have the same meaning. They might have different meanings. It would depend on the context.

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  • 2
    So ask for more context rather than giving a non-answer. – Catija Jun 7 '15 at 7:00
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    Another way to improve this answer is to just go ahead and provide some example contexts demonstrating different meanings. – CoolHandLouis Jun 23 '15 at 6:59

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