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ESL Grammar Resources

Verbs of Perception           


 Set 1  Set 2 Set 3
 (action)  (non-action) (non-action)
 listen to  hear sound
 look at see* look
touch feel* feel
smell smell smell
taste taste taste


Set 1 verbs indicate that the perceiver is "focusing" on a specific object. They can be used in the progressive.

He is listening to the radio.

They are looking at the picture.

She is smelling the flowers.

Set 2 verbs indicate general perception and are non-progressive.

He hears a noise. (Not: He is hearing . . .)
They see flames. (Not: They are seeing . . .)
She smells smoke.  

Set 3 verbs indicate appearance. (It "seems"…) They are non-progressive.

That sounds like thunder. (describes the object, not the perceiver)
This looks terrible.  
It smells fishy.  

*When feel is used to describe emotions, the progressive is sometimes used.

I feel great today. I'm feeling great today.
I feel cold today. (physical feeling is usually non-progressive)

*See can sometimes be used in expressions in the progressive.

She is seeing the doctor.

He is seeing another woman.

Special Usage of Certain Verbs of Perception

Some verbs of perception see, look at, hear, listen to, and feel, along with watch and sense can be used with objects followed by other verbs (base form or gerunds, but not infinitives).

Note the examples below:

We heard you leave. (Okay. Emphasis on our hearing.)

We heard you leaving. (Okay. Emphasis on your leaving.)

We heard you to leave. (Incorrect!)

Other examples:

I saw her go.

Look at that man run!

Sylvesterlistened to the canary sing.

We watched them play basketball.

We watched them playing basketball.

Trudy can feel the wind blowing against her skin.

Mr. Todd sensed the lion approaching.

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