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Sehen, schauen, and kucken

We have "to see," "to watch," and "to look" in English, but there are even more verbs in German, and the meanings are often prefix-dependent. In German, the three verbs/verb roots are sehen, schauen, and gucken / kucken. Gucken or (more commonplace) kucken is slang and is more popular in northern Germany, whereas schauen is slang in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. To gain an understanding of how these verbs are used, it's best to look at various examples and see how added prefixes affect the meaning.

Below, you can see examples of these three verbs without any prefixes.

 

Die anderen Tiere sind im Winter leider nicht draußen zu sehen.

The other animals are unfortunately not to be seen outside in the winter.

Caption 20, Berlin: Domäne Dahlem

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Wo sehen Sie sich selbst in zehn Jahren?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Caption 55, Berufsleben: das Vorstellungsgespräch

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Hast du schon im Schrank geschaut? -Ja.

Have you already looked in the closet? -Yes.

Caption 4, Nicos Weg: Vorm Fahrradladen

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Ich bin runter und habe geguckt, war aber nichts.

I went down and looked, but there was nothing.

Caption 28, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Erdbeben in Südhessen

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Based on these examples, you might come to the conclusion that sehen is always translated as "to see" and schauen and kucken are translated as "to look." However, this is simply not the case. It is instead the prefixes that reliably determine the translations. As you see below, sich etwas anschauen and sich etwas ansehen both mean "to (take/have a) look at something," as does sich etwas ankucken.

 

Und einen Brauch wollen wir uns heute ansehen.

And we want to take a look at one of these customs today.

Caption 6, Eva erklärt: den Adventskalender

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Zuerst schauen wir uns einige Farben an.

First, we will look at some colors.

Caption 6, Eva erklärt Farben

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Der Arzt schaut sich den Fuß jetzt erst mal an.

First, the doctor will take a look at your foot.

Caption 5, Nicos Weg: Beim Arzt

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Kuckt euch diese alte Kamera an.

Look at this old camera.

Caption 21, Drei Leute beim Kofferpacken

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The phrases mal sehen, mal schauen, and mal kucken are essentially synonyms and can mean either "let's have a look at" or "let's see," depending on the context. 

 

Mal schauen, wie weit die Cannelloni sind.

Let's see how far along the cannelloni are.

Caption 41, Cannelloni: mit Jenny

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Mal kucken, was die anderen Jugendlichen hier im Jugendforum so treiben.

Let's see what the other young people here in the Youth Forum are up to.

Caption 10, Rhein-Main-TV aktuell: Nachhaltigkeit

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Aussehen and ausschauen both refer to a person's appearance. Note: It is not possible to say auskucken in this context!

 

Du siehst gut aus.

You look good.

Caption 3, Weihnachtsmann gesucht: Bist du verliebt?

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Also, er hat mich gefragt: „Wie möchtest denn... Herr Otto, wie möchtest denn ausschauen?“

Well, he asked me: "How would you then like... Mr. Otto, how would you like to look then?"

Caption 9, Otto Waalkes: Friseur

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The verb "to watch" is most often translated as zusehen or zuschauen

 

Auf den Besuchertribünen kann jeder den Abgeordneten bei der Arbeit zusehen.

On the visitors' stands, everyone can watch the representatives at work.

Caption 23, Berlin: Hauptstadt des vereinten Deutschland

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Vielen Dank fürs Zuschauen.

Thank you for watching.

Caption 27, Eva zeigt uns: Kleidungsstücke

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When it comes to watching television or a film, there are various expressions involving all three verbs.

 

Am Freitag sehe ich fern.

On Friday, I will watch television.

Caption 17, Nicos Weg: Am Sonntag koche ich

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Wir haben viel zusammen gekocht und Filme gekuckt.

We often cooked together and watched films..

Caption 32, Fine: sucht eine Wohnung

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Wenn du den Fernseher anmachst, was schaust du?

When you turn on the television, what do you watch?

Caption 36, Peyman Amin: Der Modelmacher

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Further Learning
There are many, many examples of these verbs (sehensich etwas ansehen, zusehen, aussehen, and the slang versions) used in context on Yabla German. When you notice an incongruity between the two languages or an exception, make sure to take note of it.

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