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How to Use Look, See and Watch Correctly

Have you ever wondered the real difference between look, see and watch, and if you have been using those words correctly? Imagine sitting on a park bench – are you looking at the birds or seeing the birds or watching the birds? It is important to select the correct term so that the purpose of your sitting at the park bench is clear.

One could either want to relax and look at the birds. Another person could have already recognised some of the birds that frequent the park and would like to see them. Whereas a different person might intentionally want to watch the birds’ behaviours. The correct term expresses our intent clearly.

Now let’s dive in to find out more about the differences between the terms. As usual, the explanation at will include Bahasa Melayu translations so that the difference between look, see and watch can be highlighted.


According to the explanation given on the graphic, look is an outward act to a specific object. Look can’t be done accidentally, as look is an intentional act. The Bahasa Melayu equivalent for look are melihat, pandang and cari. Let’s look at a few examples below and their translations.

Example 1: Look at the flower.
BM Translation: Lihat bunga itu.

Example 2: He looked at me and laughed.
BM Translation: Dia pandang ke arah saya dan tertawa.

Example 3: She was looking for a pen.
BM Translation: Dia mencari sebatang pen.

Do note that look may take the meaning of lihat and melihat, but not terlihat and dilihat. While look may take the meaning of cari, mencari and tercari-cari, it cannot take the meaning of dicari. Similarly, look may take the meaning of pandang and memandang but not terpandang.


Referring again to the graphic above, see is an act of receiving input. This means that seeing can happen accidentally, without the person’s intent. The Bahasa Melayu equivalent for see are terlihat, terpandang and nampak.

Although see can also mean meet, we will not discuss that in this blog post. That’s because we only want to focus on the difference between look, see and watch here. Let’s look at a few examples below:

Example 4: She sees the book and is reminded of her homework.
BM Translation: Dia terlihat buku itu dan teringat akan kerja sekolahnya.

Example 5: They saw her waiting alone.
BM Translation: Mereka nampak dia menunggu bersendirian.

Example 6: I see the point you’re trying to make.
BM Translation: Saya faham apa yang awak cuba maksudkan.

Note that in Example 6, see may also take the meaning of faham, which is to understand (also an act of receiving). It is important to note that see can take the meaning of terlihat, lihat, terpandang, nampak and ternampak, but not dilihat and dipandang.


The graphic in this blog post defines watch as an outward act that is done in anticipation. Similar to look, watch is done intentionally. We can never have an instance where someone watched an incident accidentally.

Watch is used when we need to describe ‘see/look but in more observant way’. Simply put, in Bahasa Melayu, watch takes the meaning of tonton and perhati. Let’s check out the examples so that we can see the difference between look, see and watch more clearly.

Example 7: They watched the movie and were disappointed with its ending.
BM Translation: Mereka menonton wayang tersebut dan kecewa dengan pengakhirannya.

Example 8: She watched the bird flew away.
BM Translation: Dia memerhati burung itu terbang pergi.

Example 9: He watched as the baby walked her first steps.
BM Translation: Dia memerhati bayi itu bertatih langkah pertamanya.

Note that watch takes a more observant meaning of look and see, and its Bahasa Melayu equivalent are tonton and perhati, not lihat or melihat.

I hope this blog post clears the air about the differences between look, see and watch for you. Being able to use the correct words for the correct situation, enables you to communicate clearly and effectively. The ability to convey your thoughts, ideas and knowledge effectively create more opportunities for yourself.

When given the opportunity, professionals whom are able to presented their work in the best, most concise way are able to make a greater impact with their work. Remember, the ideas inside your head are only as good when they’re outside for the world to know.

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