Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Look And See

What is the difference between ‘look’ and ‘see’? Both words involve the eyes and the power of vision. You can both ‘look at’ something and ‘see’ something with your eyes. The words are considered synonyms for each other, however, there is a difference in the meaning and usage of the words.

‘Look’ when used as a verb can transitive or intransitive, so it can be used with or without an object grammatically. It means to direct the eyes and attention in a particular direction, but especially to examine or search for something with the eyes. For example: She looked at the ocean all afternoon. It can be used as a command to focus the eyes on something. For example: Look what I have for you here! Along with this definition, it can take on the meaning to stare or gaze at in wonder or surprise. For example: He just looked at me when I showed up early. ‘Look’ can also have a more abstract meaning of expecting or anticipating something. For example: We are looking forward to your visit. As well, it can refer to the appearance of something or its expression. For example: She has the look of an educated person. Finally related to the verb meaning, ‘look’ can be used as a noun to mean the act of looking at, examining, trying to find or considering something.

‘See’ has a very similar basic definition to ‘look’. It is also used as a transitive or intransitive verb. It means to notice or become aware of something or someone by using the eyes or to observe something. For example: I see a person coming down the street. ‘See’ can also, like ‘look’, be used as a command. For example: See what you have done! Although, in this sense, ‘look’ is generally more commonly used, but either word can be correctly used in this way. It is also used in an abstract way to mean to be aware of, recognize, acknowledge or to show the meaning of something is understood. For example: I see what you are talking about. Used in this manner, it is meant that something is able to be mentally visualized. For example: I can see him being a good doctor.

‘See’ takes on the nuance of meaning more toward the physical power of sight versus mental attention that ‘look’ implies. ‘See’ can mean just to gaze about with the eyes, without really mentally understanding what is seen. ‘Look’ takes on the meaning of understanding what is seen or searching for something in particular. ‘Looking for people you know’ means actively searching to find out where they are, and ‘seeing people you know’ means only physically observing people without making a particular effort to find them. However, in expressions to acknowledge understanding of something, interestingly it is said ‘I see what you mean’ and never is ‘look’ used. There are many collocations, verb phrases and expressions using both ‘look’ and ‘see’ in the same way, and in most cases, they just have to be learned on an individual basis for correct usage.

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