Careful looking outward – How to use expressions with ‘Watch’ (watch out, watch it, & more)

Looking at a kangaroo juggle fire can be interesting. But watching a kangaroo juggle fire is a lot better. The difference between “look” and “watch” is often a struggle for English learners to understand, but consider this; “watching” is like “looking” more attentively.

Look = just using your eyes to observe something.

Watch = looking at something and paying attention to / processing what is happening.

Watch

That’s part of the idea behind some informal meanings of “watch.” In some situations, people may use watch as a way to tell someone to be careful. This relates to someone paying attention, usually because they’re being a little careless.

  • Watch your step. The sidewalk is very uneven here.

Watch it

This is similar to the term watch it which has the same meaning, telling someone to be careful. When said in a disciplinary tone, it can be used to warn someone about their (bad) behavior too.

  • Watch it. The drivers at this intersection don’t check for pedestrians.
  • You better watch it! I told you to stop being rude.

Watch yourself / your back / your mouth + more

Oftentimes, “watch it” can be short for expressions like watch your mouth or watch yourself. All of these have the same general meaning of being careful with what you say. We usually say this to people who are acting wildly, saying offensive things or simply behaving badly. You may also hear people use several variations of this, like “watch what you say,” “watch your words,” “watch your tone,” “watch your back,” and so on. That last one, by the way, is more of a threat than the others.

  • Nina from third period called you ugly? I hope you told her to watch her mouth.
  • Excuse me, Sir! You are being extremely rude. You need to watch yourself.
  • You better watch your back when you come around here next time.

Watch out!

Another precautionary expression that is pretty popular is watch out. Telling someone to “watch out” is the same as saying be careful. This is usually because something is putting them in danger, although the danger could be physical or otherwise. When telling someone to be careful about something specific, we would tell them to “watch out for” that thing.

  • Whenever they tell George of the Jungle to “watch out for that tree,” he always ends up hitting it anyway.

Those are some of the key points you’ll want to know about the expressions using “watch.” How would you use these in a sentence? Have you heard these expressions before? Let us hear your thoughts!

Below is a short story, part of the Adventures of Charles series where we explore the above terms in their everyday usage. If you like stories and want to get some reading practice in, I encourage you to read along!


Careful looking outward – Short Story

Nothing could be heard but the rush of the wind blowing into the open windows. The sight, on the other hand, was much more beautiful. There was a mountain on one side covered in emerald grass and a few heads of cactus; the dark gray asphalt extended and curved out ahead of them, lined down the middle with yellow stripes the whole way; the crashing waves of the ocean burst onto the rocky shores. The most scenic part of it all that Charles could place his eyes on was Sheila, who was sitting next to him in the driver’s seat.

–All right! You ready to drive? she asked him.

–Who, me? Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t driven since I came to this country. I don’t really feel safe.

–Come on, it’s like riding a bike! Sheila insisted.

The two hopped out of the blue BMW M and traded seats. Charles suddenly noticed how new and, especially, how fast the car looked.

–You’ll do fine. Just don’t crash us into the ocean.

Sheila said this as a joke, but it didn’t make him feel any better. Charles started the car, shifted gear, and drove off. For a minute he felt pretty comfortable. Hey, I could get the hang of this. He was so relaxed that he started looking off at the waves, the green hillside, and got stuck on Sheila’s charming face. From the cheeks to the eyes, down to the nose, and then the chin …

–Make sure you watch the road, yeah?

Charles suddenly jerked the steering wheel, making the whole car jump until he could settle it. At that moment, a big rig truck started coming at them from the other direction.

Watch it

When he saw the truck hurling his way, Charles panicked and turned sharply onto a narrow stony road. He kept going from there.

–I’ll hand it to you. I never have come down this road, Sheila said in a sarcastic tone.

–Where did I take us? Oh, son of a–

–Hey! Watch your mouth. There’s a lady present.

Sheila snickered at her own comment. Charles pulled the car over to contemplate. After about a minute, they noticed a rumbling coming over the countryside. They both looked at each other, like, What is that? A few dark spots peeked over the green pastures until the hills were suddenly covered with them. One of the creatures ran towards the BMW, apparently interested in the vibrant paint job.

–What are those things? asked Charles.

–You’ve never seen these? They’re called bison, I think.

And bison, they were. A curious cow nearest them was licking Sheila’s rearview mirror, comically trying to check her teeth. She gave a hard sneeze and fogged the mirror, then she ran away to graze on some grass.

Sheila then said, –Hey, I’ve got an idea. Put the car into reverse, and try to make it back to the highway.

–Why reverse? Charles replied. –Can’t I just go straight?

–There’s a lot more bison ahead of us, and if you scare them they might stampede. You just have to steer, you’ll be fine.

–That’s what you said the last time.

Sucking up all the confidence he could find, he put the car into reverse and started backing up. The bison initially weren’t interested in the two of them at all. That was until Charles accidentally revved up the motor really loud, and all the bison started to scatter.

–Go faster, faster! We have to get out of here!

Charles steered one way and Sheila grabbed the wheel trying to steer another. The bumps and stones on the ground made the car jump and shake uncontrollably. They crisscrossed through bison, being extra careful (or extra lucky) not to hit any of them. After being nearly frightened to death, somehow Charles was able to get them past the maze of bison and onto the highway again. To Sheila’s surprise though, one stray bison had made its way onto the pavement, and a car was coming right at it.

Watch out, little bison! she yelled.

The sound of screeches and the smell of hot rubber filled the air around them. Charles and Sheila shut their eyes in horror. When they opened them again, they were surprised to see the other car stopped to a complete halt. The bison, probably the same cow that had come to Sheila’s car, was at the other car now, licking the rearview mirror as before.

–Oh, thank God, Sheila sighed. –That was too close.

Charles looked at her now, smiling.

–So, how did I do? Ready to drive back?

Sheila was quick to respond, “Ohh, that is okay. I’d better take over on this one.”

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