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Verbs of Perception in English Grammar

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Smell, taste, sight and touch for the cook.

Verbs of Perception refer to those verbs‏‎ which are used to talk about sensing:

  • see/look/watch/notice/observe
  • hear/listen to
  • taste
  • smell
  • touch/feel
  • sense in general

These verbs can be used in different ways and have certain grammatical conditions attached to them.

Continuous (Progressive) Forms

Used in continuous forms (aka progressive forms), these verbs indicate the subject is focusing on a particular object or item:

{progressive form} > {item}

He is watching > television
She’s listening to > music
He was smelling > different perfumes
I am feeling > ill.

Not all verbs of perception can be used in the progressive form. For example we don’t say:

*She was hearing a noise.

* an asterisk at the beginning means the phrase is ungrammatical

Though when ‘hear’ is used to mean ‘experience’ then we can use it in the progressive form:

She was always hearing voices in her head.

We don’t say:

* He was seeing a woman in the rain.

However when ‘see’ is used to mean ‘meet or go out with’ then we can use it in the progressive form:

He was seeing another woman.

Object + Infinitive

Some verbs of perception can be used with an object and then the bare infinitive (without to):

{verb of perception} + {object} + {bare infinitive}

I watched it explode.
I heard them shout.

Note that we don’t use this construction for taste, smell or touch. However, we can use it with feel:

* I tasted it eat
* I touched it explode

I felt him shudder.
She felt him relax.

Useful Links

Grammar Foundation Course – a course teaching the basics of English grammar for TEFL teachers

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