British vs American English, Confusing Words and Expressions, Controversial Topics, Grammar

‘see’ or ‘watch’ a movie: all you should know

Most of us know we can see a movie when we go to the cinema, but when to use watch has somehow become an unresolved subject. Even if you browse the internet, you could be more confused as no single individual seem to the give a definite answer.

There are answers and explanations for this seemingly confusing pair, so read this post and search no further – and we hope you find what you need.

see or watch

We naturally use watch to mean that we look at something that is changing or moving over a period of time, especially voluntarily. When we see, we perceive with the eye (voluntarily or involuntarily).

Going further, we normally use see for sports matches or public performances, such as films, dramas, and in movie theaters (American) or cinemas (British). However, we watch all these when we’re home.

Examples:

  1. We can go see a movie at the weekend.
  2. I sat quiet and watched the horror movie.

Is this a fixed rule? No.

Let’s summarize how native speakers generally use the words:

According to Mactoria, ”In reality, at least in the western US where I live, we use “see” and “watch” in this kind of context interchangeably. We “see a movie” and we also “watch a movie” whether we are at home using the TV, running a DVD of a recorded movie, or sitting in a theater. I’m not aware of any particular lessons in school on precise usage of these words for this kind of context.”

The British Council also answered our question directly thus :  ”In your example it’s a little more complicated. We’d normally use ‘see’ to describe going to the cinema to watch a play, as in ‘I’m going to see the new Star War movie tonight. Do you want to come?’ We’d use ‘watch’ to describe the actual action itself – ‘I’m watching a movie’. But when we’re talking about the past you can use either interchangeably – ‘I watched/saw a movie’.

In summary, the use of see or watch in our subject of discussion is both conventional (how speakers agree to use them) and contextual (when and where speakers use them).

We hope this helps.

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