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What is the difference between "voir" and "regarder"?

Updated: Sep 7, 2023



I can't count the number of times I've been asked this question! I know a lot of you have difficulty distinguishing between "voir" and "regarder" and using both verbs correctly.


In the last article, we talked about common French mistakes, and I know the distinction between "voir" and "regarder" is one of the errors my students often make. Here we go!



1. Voir


"Voir" (=to see) is an involuntary, passive act. It does not require any effort or concentration, but simply calls upon your vision, your ability to see something. You see something because it is in front of your eyes.


Examples:


J’ai vu quelqu’un passer dans la rue. (I saw someone pass by on the street.)


En haut de la colline, tu peux voir la mer. (On the top of the hill you can see the sea.)


Le prof voit ses élèves grâce à la webcam. (The teacher can see his students through the webcam.)


Dans le noir, je ne vois rien. 🌙 (I can't see anything in the dark.)


⚠️ « voir » can also be synonymous with "to visit".

For example: Je vois ma grand-mère tous les dimanches. (I visit my grandmother every Sunday.) 👵🏻



2. Regarder


On the contrary, "regarder" (to watch, to look at) is a voluntary, active act that requires attention. You look at something because you want to see it!


Examples:


Elle s’assoit sur la plage pour regarder la mer. (She sits on the beach to look at the sea.)


Regarde cet oiseau ! Il est de toutes les couleurs ! (Look at this bird! It is very colorful!)


J’ai regardé un documentaire très intéressant sur l’histoire de France. (I watched a very interesting documentary about French history.)



Voir or regarder a movie?


In general, when talking about a movie, a series, television, a show, etc., the verb "regarder" is used since you watch a movie with attention and concentration. This is a voluntary act.


Example: Je suis en train de regarder Intouchables sur Netflix. (I am watching Intouchables on Netflix.)


But in the past tense, the verb "voir" is used instead.


Example: Samedi dernier, j’ai vu un film français au cinéma. (Last Saturday, I saw a French movie at the cinema.)



Make a clear distinction!


Have a look at these two sentences:


– Tous les jours, je vois mon voisin sortir de l’immeuble. ➡️ This means that I see my neighbor every day because he passes by me or by my window. I didn't choose to see him every day, but he appears in my field of vision every day.


– Tous les jours, je regarde mon voisin sortir de l’immeuble. ➡️ Here the meaning is different. I look at my neighbor every day because I have decided to do so: I go to my window every day to look at him.


Other example:


Imagine being on a Zoom meeting with a client.


– Je ne vous vois pas ! ➡️ This means that you do not have the capability to see the person, for example because your internet connection or webcam does not allow it.


– Je ne vous regarde pas ! ➡️ This phrase can be misinterpreted and you could even offend the person 😅 because it means that you have decided not to look at the person, you don't want to see them. Ouch...



Conjugation


The verb « regarder » is a regular verb from the 1st group, but the verb "voir" is irregular.


Voir

Regarder

Présent de l'indicatif

Je vois Tu vois Il/elle voit Nous voyons Vous voyez Ils/elles voient

Je regarde Tu regardes Il/elle regarde Nous regardons Vous regardez Ils/elles regardent

Passé composé

J’ai vu Tu as vu Il/elle a vu Nous avons vu Vous avez vu Ils/elles ont vu

J’ai regardé Tu as regardé Il/elle a regardé Nous avons regardé Vous avez regardé Ils/elles ont regardé


To find out how to conjugate the verb "see" in other tenses (imperfect, future simple, present subjunctive...), click here.


Let's test your understanding.


To check that you have understood everything about « voir » and « regarder », complete these 10 sentences with one of the 2 verbes, conjugated at the right tense or at the infinitive form. (There is only one possibility for each sentence.)


The answers are below. 🔽


1. Il y a eu accident de voiture près de mon bureau mais je n’ai rien … .


2. Ma sœur … cette émission de téléréalité tous les soirs.


3. Quand j’étais enfant, je … les dessins animés tous les dimanches matins.


4. Ma voisine est une femme âgée qui passe sa journée à … les passants par la fenêtre.


5. Tu as … le dernier film de Spielberg ?


6. La dernière fois que j’ai … André, il travaillait encore chez Total.


7. … ! Un arc-en-ciel ! 🌈


8. Qu’est-ce que le professeur a écrit ? Je ne … pas le tableau.


9. Je n’avais jamais … un tel spectacle !


10. J’aime me promener tôt le matin et … les oiseaux.


Answers: 1. vu | 2. regarde | 3. regardais | 4. regarder | 5. vu | 6. vu | 7. Regarde | 8. vois | 9. vu | 10. regarder



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