LOOK AT THAT! DID YOU SEE IT?!!- Verbs of Perception in English


Imagine you are sitting down with some friends, watching a good basketball game on TV. You see that there is popcorn, beer and cola, Chex snack mix and bars on the coffee table. You notice the excitement in the atmosphere among your friends, especially as you had a bet with one of them, who is staring at you in hopes he would win the bet.

All of a sudden, you see this happen:



Everyone is jumping up in the air, with food and drink flying all over the floor. One of your friends is hosting the party and comes to the living room to see a mess and all of you covered in food and drink. His lone reaction:



The redness on his face was not only the expression of anger (which is understandable) but also fear because his parents would be coming home soon.


And he was not supposed to have a basketball party, unless he risked getting grounded. 😉


But looking at the situation, we have many words in there that have to do with perception: LOOK (AT), SEE, WATCH, STARE, OBSERVE & NOTICE. All but TWO of them mean the same as the German SEHEN, whereas NOTICE means BEMERKEN and OBSERVE is BEOBACHTEN.

The underlying meaning behind them has to do with the context and for people learning English, this is difficult to do unless you understand the meaning, have an example and even include an mnemonic (Eselsbrücke) to help you.

Here are the differences you need to pay attention to:


SEE SEE has to do with the passive function of the eyes. We use SEE when something sudden appears and you have to shift your eyes onto that object.


SEE is an irregular verb with the past tense SAW and perfect form, SEEN



1.      When I look out of the window, I see my neighbor’s garden with lots of flowers

2.      Did you see what I saw?  Yeah, I saw a huge dolphin swimming in the harbor.


As an mnemonic, think of this tongue twister: Mr. See owns a saw. Mr. Saw owns a seesaw. Now see saw soar saw seesaw (….) Link here.

NOTICE When you NOTICE something, you suddenly realize that something is there. Most of the time you comment on something you NOTICE.


NOTICE is a regular verb where only -D is added for both past and perfect forms.



1.      I noticed you have a new pair of glasses! How long have you had them?

2.      Ben got the notice from his boss yesterday that he was being laid off.


As an mnemonic, think of a situation where one person gives his boss his NOTICE because he’s unhappy with his job. In this case, the boss NOTICES this NOTICE suddenly and must react by finding a new employee to replace him.

STARE The opposite of notice is STARE. To STARE at someone is when a person looks at the person or an object for a long period of time for a specific reason.


If it’s a person, unless you are playing the stare game, STARING at a person may present some discomfort  because he/she is being perceived as an object of interest.


STARE shares the same function as NOTICE and is a regular verb, whose past and perfect form ends with -D



1.      Grady stared at Nicole for a long time because of her long brown hair.

2.      The police officers were staring at a house because one was trying to break in.

3.      Jack and Clara played stare game and stared at each other for a long time.


STARE game is when two people stare at each other for as long as possible  until one flinches. The one who stares the longest wins.



LOOK (AT) To LOOK at someone means you are directed by a person to see something that the other person saw but only for a short time.


LOOK (AT) in this case should not be mixed up with SEARCH, for one can use LOOK (FOR) in the case of finding something.


LOOK is a regular verb tense whose past ending is -ED



1.      Look at that girl there! She’s a real beauty.

2.      Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, lately?


Mnemonic: Who was your first lover? Think about the story about that first person you were in love with. Did someone tell you to LOOK AT the person when she was garnering your attention?

WATCH WATCH can be used when you are looking at something for a long period of time, like a game, an event, a show on TV or sometimes babysitting smaller kids.


WATCH has -ED as an ending for past and perfect and is a regular verb


WATCH OUT and LOOK OUT are the same but have a different meaning. They imply that danger is ahead and you must avoid or steer clear of it.



1.      My friends and I watched a great football game on TV last night.

2.      She really enjoyed watching the orchestra concert at the high school.

3.      Watch out! Deer!


There are two Mnemonics. The first is asking what your favorite TV shows were (or still are). For WATCH OUT, use the deer crossing as a sign. When you see one, you know you need to slow down and watch for wildlife.

OBSERV-E OBSERVE has the same function as WATCH, which means looking at something for a long time. However, OBSERVE is when a person looks at the developments of a project, behavioral pattern or changes in the environment and analyses it, providing some conclusions in oral or written form.


OBSERVE is a regular verb and has a -D ending for past and perfect form



1.      I’ve observed your behavior lately and you seem irritated. What’s wrong?

2.      The teacher observed the science experiment closely.

3.      The students observed the demonstration with interest.


OBSERVE has more to do with seeing things live and not from a distance. Therefore, ask yourself what your favorite science experiment was in school.

After learning the rules regarding the difference among the perceptive verbs, here are some activities for you to do so that you have a chance to use them correctly. An answer sheet can be found by clicking here.



Multiple Choice:  For each sentence, choose the correct word and write it in the blank. Pay attention to the verb tenses.  One answer possible!


1.      When I opened the window, I _____________ Mr. Markman mowing the lawn.

a.      Watch          b. See                  c. Observe          d. Look at


2.      I __________ that you have a cool haircut, Mia. Which hair dresser did you visit?

a.      Notice          b. Observe          c. Look                d. Watch


3.      Ken, Don and I ____________ three hours of professional wrestling on TV last night.

a.      Look             b. Notice             c. Watch             d. See


4.      Quit ____________ at me, Jake! I don’t like that.

a.      Watch          b. See                  c. Stare                d. Look at


5.      Karen and Mattie ____________ exhibits at the museum while I’m meeting friends at a pub.

a.      Stare                    b. Notice             c. Look at            d. Observe


6.      Fans and the prep band ____________ the football game at the stadium in Hanover on Friday.

a.      Watch                 b. Look at           c. Observe          d. Stare


7.      Wow! __________ that beauty walking down the stage!

a.      Stare                    b. See                  c. Look at            d. Observe


8.      Did you __________ that asteroid that landed in the field, last night?!!

a.      See                       b. Look                c. Stare                d. Observe


9.      Many kids in the class ____________ Ms. Mulder’s amazing chemistry project in the science lab.

a.      Notice                 b. Observe          c. Stare                d. Look


10.   Wow, Dean! You __________ pale. Are you OK, Bud?

a.      Watch                 b. Stare               c. Notice             d. Look


11.   We ____________ the snow falling onto the ground for a few minutes yesterday.

a.      Look                    b. Watch             c. Notice             d. See


12.   Millie, you ____________ the kids this evening as we will go out for dinner, understand?

a.      See                       b. Observe          c. Watch             d. Notice


13.   ____________ what you did! Who’s going to pay for the new window?

a.      Watch                 b. See                  c. Look                d. Notice


14.   Mr Hildebrandt _____________ Heidi’s change in behavior in class and went to talk with her about it.

a.      Look at               b. Observe          c. Watch             d. See


15.   Leia ___________ the ducks closely on the lake and wrote down her results.

a.      Observe              b. See                  c. Notice             d. Look



Word Group:   Look at the following group of words and determine which of the perceptive verbs you would use. One answer possible!


1.      Student               Test                      Classroom          Write  

ANS: ____________________

2.      Stadium              Baseball              Umpire                Pitcher   

ANS: ____________________

3.      Car                       Deer                     Road                    Darkness     

ANS: ____________________

4.      Wildlife               Forest                  Bear                     Mating    

ANS: ____________________

5.      Highway              Car                       Flat tire               Police Officer  

ANS: ____________________

6.      Games                 Kids                       TV                         Trouble

ANS: ____________________

7.      Old dress            New outfit          New hair style   New attitude 

ANS: ____________________

8.      UFO                     Farm field           Alien (E.T.)          Rotating Lights

ANS: ____________________

9.      Boss      Anger Management        Crying Worker      Fired    

ANS: ____________________

10.   Parking lot         Parking Meter   Parking Ticket    Car 

ANS: ____________________



Dia-Slide Show: Now you have an opportunity to construct sentences using the perceptive verbs.  Use the following 15 pics and construct a sentence using the correct Verbs. Please note that there are many answers possible.  Good luck! 🙂

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: All the photos were taken by the author and the motif is in the far North.


Activity 4:

A Couple or Not? Sometimes it is possible to use more than one perceptive word in a sentence. Look at each pair and determine if they are a match or not. Answer with either Yes or No.

  • Trevon stared at Pauline for a long time because of her beauty.
  • Trevon looked at Pauline for a long time because of her beauty.




  • We saw that you bought a new car. How much was it?
  • We watch that you bought a new car. How much was it?


  • Did you see Fall Guy on TV last night?
  • Did you watch Fall Guy on TV last night?


  • I was watching your interaction with Anja with concern. Do you want to talk about it?
  • I was observing your interaction with Anja with concern. Do you want to talk about it?


  • Sean got a notice from his boss today.
  • Sean got a watch from his boss today.


  • Jana was watching Dr. Quincy when the phone rang.
  • Jana was seeing Dr. Quincy when the phone rang.


  • Hundreds of fans watched the soccer team score the winning goal the last second.
  • Hundreds of fans observed the soccer team score the winning goal the last second.


  • Did you see the UFO fly over the city hall?
  • Did you watch the UFO fly over the city hall?


  • I see that you are packing your stuff and leaving. Where are you going?
  • I notice that you are packing your stuff and leaving. Where are you going?


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