voir/regarder

What’s the difference between voir and regarder?

It can be tricky to tell the difference between the French verbs voir and regarder. The key difference is that the former is active and the latter is passive, similar to the English verbs see and look/watch. Keep reading to learn when to use voir and when to use regarder, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Madame Rose est en vacances. En ce moment, elle se repose sur la plage.

Elle regarde le coucher de soleil. « Comme c’est beau ! », pense-t-elle. Elle peut même voir une voile à l’horizon.

The French verbs voir and regarder both refer to the act of perceiving something with your eyes, however there is a key difference between the two:

voir

The verb voir is passive: it is comparable to the English verb see. Use voir when the person sees automatically or unintentionally. It refers to the act of simply perceiving things that are part of the surroundings.

Example:
Madame Rose voit une voile à l’horizon.Madame Rose can see a sail on the horizon.

Voir also refers to the ability to see or perceive something.

Example:
Tu vois cet oiseau là-bas ?Can you see that bird over there?

We can also use voir to mean visit someone or see someone.

Examples:
Je suis allé voir ma grand-mère le week-end dernier.I went to see my grandma last weekend.
Est-ce que tu vois toujours Jean-Baptiste ? Il m’a l’air très gentil.Are you still seeing Jean-Baptiste? He seems so nice.

regarder

The verb regarder is active: it is similar to the English verbs look or watch. We use regarder when a person chooses to look at something or when they focus their attention on something intentionally.

Example:
Madame Rose regarde le coucher de soleil.Madame Rose is watching the sunset.

We can use regarder in the imperative to attract or direct someone else’s attention.

Example:
Regarde ! Le chat est monté tout en haut de l’arbre !Look! The cat has climbed to the top of the tree!
not: Vois ! Le chat…

Regarder is also used with the word film to talk about watching movies.

Example:
Ce soir, nous allons regarder un film de Rohmer.Tonight, we are going to watch a film by Rohmer.

Remember! When talking about films, we prefer to use voir instead of regarder when the verb is in the past tense.

Example:
Hier, j’ai vu un très bon film.Yesterday, I saw a great film.

Compare

Take a look at the sentences below to get a better idea of the difference between voir and regarder.

Example:
La nuit dernière, j’ai vu beaucoup d’étoiles.Last night, I saw lots of stars.

The sky was clear and the stars were visible; however I did not focus my attention on them, they were simply there.

La nuit dernière, j’ai regardé les étoiles.Last night, I watched the stars.

I got comfortable and intentionally directed my attention to watch the stars, possibly for a longer time.