The Past Tense of See: Here’s What It Is and How to Use It

Learning a language’s grammatical concepts is arguably one of the most difficult things about learning any language.  For example, for anyone who has ever learned a foreign language before, you know how difficult it is to memorize verb conjugations, different forms of pronouns, lists of noun rules, and various other grammar rules.  And if you have ever learned more than one other language, it can be very easy to get them confused.

Welcome to English, a language that is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to master due to the complexity of its rules and the fact that it actually breaks its own rules more often than not.  The exceptions often outnumber the rules, and it can be very hard to keep track of what is right and what is wrong, especially if you find yourself working with several different groups of people with their own colloquialisms or slangs.  English lends itself to several common grammar mistakes that beginners and experienced English speakers alike make often.  

In this article, let’s explore the verb “to see”, learn its proper use, how to use its past tense, look for its synonyms, and learn its etymology and context.  

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What is the past perfect tense of see?

To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important to first define what it actually means.  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the word see can be defined as “to perceive by the eye”, “to perceive or detect as if by sight”, or “to be aware of”.  Some secondary definitions include, “to come to know”, “to have experience of”, and “to apprehend objects by sight”.  In total, there are thirty one definitions of the word “to see” in both transitive and intransitive forms.

Part of what makes English such a difficult language to master is that no matter where you look, there are rules, and then there are exceptions to those rules.  For example, the common rule for making the past tense in English is to add “-d” or “-ed” to a verb to give it the past tense.  For example, the verb cook becomes cooked, and the verb bake becomes baked.  In both situations, you either add the “-ed” or the “-d” suffix and the word is past tense.

In this case, the past tense of see is not formed by adding a suffix at all.  Instead, the past tense is created by completely changing the spelling of the word from “see” to “saw”.  The past participle is seen, and is used to describe an event that has already been completed, e.g. he has seen the website already.  

Is it “Did See” or “Did Saw”?

When asking whether or not something is a real word, what you are really asking is whether or not people use it often enough for it to be considered correct.  The reason for this distinction is that language is directed by culture, not the other way around.  The words people use in common conversation eventually become correct even if they are not considered correct by a dictionary.  For example, the word selfie was added to several dictionaries a few years ago due to its prevalence in context and in culture.

The dictionary cannot be the definitive authority on all of language, so learn your audience and how they communicate, and you will be just fine.

In this context, whenever you have a word preceding a verb that already describes the context and time that an action took place, you do not also convert the word to its past tense.  So, the correct form is “did see”, not “did saw”.  

The History and Origin of the Word

One of the best ways to understand a word is to learn where it came from.  A word’s etymology can reveal a lot about the changes a word has gone through to get to where it is today in modern English.  According to, the word see was first used in the early thirteenth century and was an Old English word “seon”, which means to see or observe.  The word, in turn, got its origins in Old Saxon and Proto-Germanic languages.  

Many verbs in English with irregular forms in the past tense actually do come from Western European languages rather than from ancient Latin or Greek.   

Examples of the Word in Context

Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly.  Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation.  Here are some common examples of the word “to see” in context:

  • “Have you seen the newest movie yet?  I’m glad the theaters are finally open again.”
  • “Are you going to see the play next week?  I’ve heard that it’s excellent.”
  • “Do you see the sunset?  Look out the window.  It’s beautiful!”

Synonyms for See

Finally, to really solidify a word into your vocabulary, it is useful to explore words with similar or same definitions.  The more words you know that can fit into a specific context, the easier it will be to remember which ones to use.  Here are some synonyms for the verb “to see”:

  • To perceive means to see but with purpose and focus
  • To observe means to passively see something outside your control or scope
  • To look means to see with purpose and determination, a conscious decision

In Summary

By reading this article, you should now be prepared to use the word “to see” in any context, written or spoken.  If you need further clarification in an academic setting, never hesitate to ask your professor or your teacher.  Good luck!