The Proper use of Hear, Listen, Touch, Feel, Look, Watch & See

As an English learner, you may already know that English is a complex language. You have grammar, vocabulary, idioms and expressions, as well as various contexts and rules to consider when making a sentence. There are also a lot of confusing words that may mean the same to you but are actually used for specific situations.

Today, we will talk about verbs for the senses, which include hearing and listening, looking, watching and seeing, as well as touching and feeling.

HEAR & LISTEN

Hearing and listening have both to do with your ears, they are similar, and can be confusing. So, let’s learn what context they can be used in so you can sound correct and more natural.

LISTEN: active

This requires concentration and means you’re paying attention. This also means you choose to do this action to get information and learn from somebody. You also use this with a preposition, such as ‘to’ and ‘for’.

“listen to”

“listen for”

“listen out for”

Examples

  • Grandpa listens to the radio every morning.
  • Please listen for her call.  I don’t want to miss it while I step away from the room.
  • Let’s listen out for the news on the coming typhoon.
  • If you want to improve your pronunciation, listen to more English broadcasts.
  • If you want to learn a song, you listen to it over and over.

HEAR: passive

With hearing, no concentration or focusing is needed. You are only receiving the sound waves to your ears, whether you choose to or not. This is when there’s a sound or noise around you and you can’t help but hear it. You become aware of an unexpected sound in your environment.

Examples

  • Did you hear the scratching sound in the attic a few minutes ago?
  • Do you hear those huge trucks passing by?
  • Can you please speak louder? I can’t hear you.

(This is when you can’t hear someone well because the volume of their voice is too low. The sound doesn’t reach your ears very well.)

  • I’m not interested to hear that.

(This is for cases when you don’t want to know certain information about someone or something.)

  • Have you heard from your Mom lately?

(This means getting any news from your Mom, whether through a phone call, text message, or a letter that would somehow give you an update about her.)

FEEL & TOUCH

These are verbs that include the hands and skin which help us with the sense of “feeling”.

FEEL: active

This involves a little stroking, for example on a cloth. It’s typically a longer contact than just touching.

  • This stuffed toy is so soft, just feel it.
  • Cris was feeling his way around the dark when there was a sudden power outage.
  • It’s completely dark in my aunt’s house, so we were feeling around the room to find the lamp.

TOUCH: active

This is what you actively do to tap something like someone’s shoulder, arm, or back to get their attention or to show affection. You can also touch any surface like a picture, a book, or a bed. This is not keeping a long hold on something, so it’s very brief. It’s a quick contact.

  • I touched her forehead to check if she still has a fever.
  • Don’t touch that dog, it might bite!
  • Tracy touched the flowers lovingly as she walked around the garden.

FEEL: passive

You can also use “feel” as a general feeling or emotion about something. It’s a sort of signal or “sense” that you’re getting from others or from the things around you.

  • It feels hot in here. Let’s turn on the A/C.
  • The situation in their house doesn’t feel too good.
  • (This can be because the mom and dad just had a fight or argument.)
  • I love feeling the early morning breeze!

LOOK, WATCH & SEE

These are verbs that include the eyes but are used in different ways and specific contexts. And, you need to use them properly to sound right. So it has to be one particular verb for a certain situation for it to sound right.

LOOK: active

This is similar to listen when we talked about the difference between listening and hearing. So, you consciously decide to do this action because you want to find something. Many times you move your head towards the direction of the object that you’re looking at. You also use prepositions with it, such as ‘for’ and ‘at’.

“look for”

“look at” (paying attention to details and colors of a picture, for instance)

“look out for”

  • I’ve been looking for my blue shoes from yesterday.
  • I enjoy looking at abstract paintings.
  • I’m looking for a Japanese restaurant. Would you know of one around here?

WATCH: active

You use this when you’re watching something that’s moving such as, TV shows, movies, sports, moving animals, or people that are passing by. You’re watching something that’s holding your interest because it is developing and it keeps changing. Since there’s a process happening, “watching” takes a long time to do. So, for example, when you watch a film, you typically do it from beginning to end.

  • My kids are watching The Lion King at their cousin’s house.
  • My brother loves to watch documentaries about wild animals.

SEE: passive

This one is similar to hear when contrasted to listen. With this, you’re not deliberately looking or watching. This is not a conscious choice to look at something, but rather, your eyes are only receiving an image. It’s more like recognizing something when it’s right in front of your eyes or within the vision. So, it’s something you did not expect or wait for, but your senses recognize it.

  • Oh, I see lots of mosquitoes there!
  • I can see what you’re pointing at.
  • If you go outside and look at the night sky, you may just see a falling star.
  • I can’t see the print. Can you give me my glasses?
  • I hope this article helps you the next time you decide which word to use. Hearing, seeing, and feeling are verbs that are used in a passive sense. While listening, looking, watching, and touching are used in an active sense.

It may take a while to really master these, but no worries! As they say, practice makes perfect.


Author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.