sehen / schauen / gucken / luegen… Seeing in German doesn’t have to be that hard

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 At 10 23 53

sehen / schauen / gucken / luegen… Seeing in German doesn’t have to be that hard

If you’ve ever taken a language course, you know that good language teachers and trainers try to engage their students and get them to speak. One of the most common questions that teachers ask is “How was your weekend? What did you do?” (Wie war dein Wochenende? Was hast du gemacht?) This usually receives a flurry of different responses. One of the most common is telling me about something they have seen. And there we have the stumbling block. What verb should they use? sehen (habegesehen), schauen (habe … geschaut), ansehen (habeangesehen), gucken (habegeguckt), luegen … (hagluegt). It’s a common question and in this post you’ll learn how to say you’ve seen something like a sign and a movie.

To answer the above question we must delve into what these words mean and how they are used. We will only look in detail at sehen/ansehen and schauen/anschauen. Just a note before we get started, you might want to check out the posts on verbs especially regarding verbs with separable prefixes. Once we do that, we should arrive at the answer. Let’s take a look:


English translation:

to see


The active and passive perception of something using the eyes.


betrachten —  to behold

blicken — to gaze, to glance, to look

glotzen — to gawk

schauen — to look

starren — to stare, to goggle

stieren — to stare, to goggle


  • Ich sehe den Apfel. (I see the apple.)
  • Ich habe den Schild nicht gesehen. (I didn’t see the sign.)
  • Hast du meinen Sohn gesehen? (Did you see my son?)


Sehen is mostly used like the English verb “to see”. If you cannot logically exchange “to see” for another verb in English such as “to watch” then use sehen in German. You would not ask: “Hast du meinen Sohn geschaut?” to mean “Did you see my son?”


English translation:

to behold something/someone


To behold something or to look at something with purpose.


angucken — to look at something/someone

anschauen — to view something

betrachten — to behold something


  • Sieh mich nicht so an! (Don’t look at me like that!)
  • Heute Abend sehe ich mir den neuen Film von Fatih Ak?n an. (I’m going to see the new film by Fatih Ak?n this evening.)
  • Markus sieht sich morgen eine Wohnung an. (Markus is going to view a new flat tomorrow.)


When ansehen is used with a reflexive (dative) you are looking at something or someone in order to become acquainted with it and know it in detail. It implies an intention in the act of seeing. Ansehen with the reflexive is often used with words like Film (der), Bild (das),  and Video (das).


English translation:

to look


A more active than passive form of perception using the eyes.


blicken — to look, to glance

gucken — to look, to peer, to peek

lugen — to look, to peer (Southern German)

luegä — to look, to peer (Switzerland)

sehen — to see


  • Mit der neuen Brille kann ich besser schauen. (I can see better with the new glasses.)
  • Marie schaut auf die Strasse. (Marie is looking at the street.)
  • Schau, schau! (Take a look!)


Schauen can often be exchanged for sehen. Schauen is commonly used in Souther Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to mean sehen. Pay attention to the common prepositions associated with schauen such as auf for “at”.


English translation:

to look at someone or something, to view something


To consciously look at something. With the reflexive (dative) it means to watch something as a viewer.


anblicken — to look at something/someone

ansehen — to behold something

betrachten — to behold something


  • Nimm dir Zeit und schau die Bilder konzentriert an! (Take your time and look concentratedly at the pictures!)
  • Lass dich mal anschauen! (Let me take a look at you!)
  • Ich werde mir am Abend den Abenteurfilm im Fernsehen anschauen. (I’m going to watch the adventure film on TV tonight.)
  • Ich habe mir die Stadt angeschaut. (I looked at the city. / I went sightseeing in the city.)


Anschauen is the better word to use for watching a film or movie because it implies an active and conscious act. Anschauen, like ansehen, also often occurs with the words Film (der), Fernsehen (das), Video (das), Bild (das), Spiegel (der). Don’t forget the dative reflexive element.

So let’s return to the class in an example dialogue:

Lehrer: Guten Morgen Julia, wie geht es Ihnen heute?

Julia: Guten Morgen Herr Steinemann. Mir geht es gut, danke. Und Ihnen?

Lehrer: Danke, auch sehr gut. Sag mir Julia, was haben Sie gestern Abend gemacht?

Julia: Ich war zuhause und habe mir den neuen Film mit Moritz Bleibtreu angeschaut.

Lehrer: Oh ja?! Und wie heisst der Film?

Julia: Goethe!

Here you could replace angeschaut for angesehen and both would be correct.

To recap:

Both sehen and schauen and/or ansehen/anschauen can often be used interchangeably. However, schauen/anschauen implies a more active form of looking. Sehen though is often used more in writing and to imply the most common form of “to see”.

Here is a simple guideline to help you:

sehen = to look briefly

schauen = to look with intent for an extended period of time

  1. UnterhaltungUnterhaltung04-09-2012

    Ich bin gleicher Auffassung wie auch mein Vorredner – sehr wissenswert veröffentlichter Bericht. Weiter so!

  2. SunSun11-05-2013

    Really helpful!! Thanks a lot!

  3. andrey.stepanovandrey.stepanov01-14-2015

    Your blog is probably the best German teaching blog on the web – excellent topics, methodology and examples

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