I know what nightmare means,it is bad dream during sleeping.I would like know how we experience it. Do we see it, my sentence make sense?

Last night I've seen very bad nightmare.

  • You shouldn't use present perfect (I've seen) here, because "last day" is already over. So you should use past simple - I saw.
    – nightcoder
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 20:36

7 Answers 7


It may sound boring, but the verb we most often associate with nightmare is simply have.

Last night I had a nightmare.

You can see the prevalence of this usage in this Ngram.

This other Ngram shows the most common words that are put in front of "a nightmare." Most are prepositions; the top verbs are had and was. I'm guessing most of those uses of was are probably more figurative usages of the word, such as:

My relationship with Chuck was a nightmare. I can't believe it took me so long to dump him.


That project was a nightmare! We were over a year late and a million dollars over budget.

  • 2
    @Dragut - There's no reason that saw couldn't be used, but it's not. It might just be idiomatic. As far as emotions go, we can see the joy in someone's face, or see the fear in someone's eyes. Here's another interesting Ngram. Good question, btw.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 10:34
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    "Watching a nightmare unfold" is pretty common, so I think figuratively we can "see" it. I don't think we see a dream like we see a movie, because our minds are creating it so we are more actively involved. @Dragut
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 15:18
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    And another confusing technically our eyes are closed during sleeping,that's why we can not see anything, right? Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 15:28
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    @user1474062 - I wouldn't say that we don't use see because our eyes are closed; it is perfectly acceptable to say "In my dream I saw a tiger." It's just that the idiomatic verb to use with dream or nightmare is have.
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 15:56
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    off-topic, but that ngram viewer from Google is very cool! Thank you for the link! Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:27

Last night I've seen very bad nightmare.

You might say you "saw something in a dream", or a nightmare. But when speaking about just generally experiencing it, you would say you "had a bad dream" or "had a nightmare".

You would not say "Last night I saw a bad dream", nor "Last night I saw a nightmare" when referring to the experience of dreaming.

The only way you would say "Last night I saw a nightmare" would be if you were speaking figuratively--that while awake, you'd seen something that was very bad--as if it were from a nightmare.


You 'see' nightmares and dreams because a dream (or a nightmare) is like a movie, played by our sub-conscience. So yes, we "see" dreams and nightmares. I'm not an expert on that, however, I can help you with the sentence construction. I'm afraid your sentence is incorrect, try:

Last night I saw a bad dream.

Also, 'nightmares' are negative dreams. So you don't have to mention 'bad' along with it. It becomes redundant. Optionally, you could also say:

Last night I saw a nightmare.

But when we talk about dreams and nightmares, you generally use "had".

I had a dream.

As Martin Luther Kings said: "I have a dream.." and not "I see a dream.."

  • 2
    In my idiolect of Northeastern American English, you cannot say "I saw a bad dream" unless you mean something like "I saw 'A Bad Dream'" and "A Bad Dream" is the name of a movie or a television episode or other visual work. The verb that dreams and nightmares take in my idiolect is "to have", even though in, say, Japanese, the equivalent of "to see" is fine.
    – Mark S.
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 2:01
  • You don't use vision to experience dreams in any way.
    – Clearer
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 10:18
  • @Clearer You are mistaken. See, for instance, nderf.org/NDERF/Research/…
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 11:20
  • @JimBalter If I read that article right, there are some parts of the brain which process visual information -- whether or not that is "vision" is where we disagree. When I wrote "vision", I specifically ment using eyes, not any part of the brain or other parts of the nervous system. As I understand, the article also claims that a special part of the brain is doing some of the processing when you're sleeping, which is not the same part of the brain that you're using when you're awake. I agree that you do use some parts of the visual system to process dreams and I never meant to claim otherwise
    – Clearer
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 11:41
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    @Clearer, you seem to make making an unsupported jump from "one technical definition of vision isn't used when dreaming" to "that's the reason verbs like 'to see' are not used with dreams in English". The fact is that some languages like Japanese and Turkish (perhaps the native language of the OP) use the equivalent of "to see" in this context. I think it's more a coincidence that we don't than that anyone sat down and said "well, we don't really use our eyes, so let's use a different verb other than 'see' in English".
    – Mark S.
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:40

One thing missing from the answers is the point that "seeing" implies perception with one's eyes. Since phenomena such as dreams, visions, hallucinations and nightmares are perceived with the mind's "eye" (a misleadingly corporealized abstraction), "seeing" does not apply.

That said, a sentence like "I see nightmares in my waking life." is perfectly valid (syntactically and semantically), however, as someone above mentioned, that usage of "nightmare" is figurative and the implication is that you see (with your eyes) material things/scenes that have a nightmarish quality. So the rule still holds.

On rereading the above answers, I realize that Varun KN was alluding to this point but didn't quite get there.


You can't say you saw a dream or a nightmare but could suggest that the dream had a visual element by saying

I had a very vivid dream last night

Here is the definition I am thinking of:

vivid: producing powerful feelings or strong, clear images in the mind.

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    Note that vivid emphasizes much more strong, clear images than strong, clear images. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 18:48

A nightmare is more than visuals. It's an experience, as you say. Therefore, besides the already mentioned

I had a nightmare,

you can also say

I experienced a nightmare.

A number of words fit in this category, e.g. endure can also be used here.


I know what nightmare means,it is bad dream during sleeping.I would like know how we experience it. Do we see it, my sentence make sense?

In proper English:

I know what the word "nightmare" means ... it is a bad dream. [Dreams occur while sleeping, so there's no need to mention that.] I would like to know how to refer to the experience: Do we see it? Does that sentence make sense?

Answer: In English, we talk about having experiences. we have dreams and nightmares, accidents, lucky breaks, epiphanies, realizations, etc. We talk about seeing the content of dreams and nightmares, e.g., "I had a nightmare in which I saw monsters eating people alive."

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