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Mirar vs Ver
These two verbs sometimes cause confusion because they can both be translated as 'looking' or 'watching'.
Let's take a look at the dictionary meanings of these two verbs:
1) 'Ver' (among other things) means:
1. To see, to look at, ie. to perceive objects with your eyes.
2 To perceive something with any sense or intelligence.
3 To observe or consider something, to watch.
4 To recognize something by showing care and attention, reading it or discussing it.
5 To visit someone or be with them to deal with a matter.
6 Attend or go with care and touch on what runs.
7 To consider or reflect on something.
2) Mirar (among other things) means:
1 To look at, to direct your view towards and object.
2 To observe someone's actions.
3 to check, look through, go though, revise
4 To keep in mind, to pay attention, to look.
(Why don't you look where you're going! !A ver si mira por dónde va!)
4 To see someone in a certain light, to regard
(Teenagers look at actors like heros. Los adolescentes miran a los actores como héroes.)
As you can see, they're very similar and sometimes their uses will be regional. In a nutshell though; use 'ver' to mean 'to watch' or just 'to see' but 'mirar', 'to look at' or 'to look' attentively or with a purpose.
When to use 'ver':
Ver is used for the general meaning of 'seeing':
¿Ves algo? Can you see anything?
La vi ayer. I saw her yesterday.
Vamos a ver. Let's see.
Tú ves visiones. You're seeing things.
Déjame ver. Let me see.
Other useful sayings using 'ver' are:
Se te ve en la cara. I can tell by your face.
Ya lo veo. I can see that.
¿No ves lo que está pasando? Can't you see what's happening?
No quiere ver la realidad. He won't face the facts.
No puede ni verla. or No la puede ver. He can't can't stand her.
Ve a ver quién es. Go and see who it is.
No me olvidé ¡para que veas! I didn't forget, see?
¡Nunca he visto cosa igual! I've never seen anything like it!
Use ver to describe 'watching tv' , 'watching a movie', or 'watching sports' :
Estoy viendo la tele. I'm watching tv.
Esa película ya la he visto. I've already seen that movie.
Estoy viendo una película. I'm watching a movie.
Me gusta ver el tenis. I like to watch tennis.
A Jose le encanta ver los dibujos animados. Jose loves to watch cartoons.
When to use 'mirar':
Use mirar in the general sense of 'to look' or 'to look at'.
!No me mires así! Don't you look at me like that!
Se me quedó mirando. He just stared at me.
¡Mira lo que has hecho! Look what you've done!
Some other useful phrases with 'mirar'"
Mirar de reojo. To look out of the corner of your eye, to sneek a peek at
Miró el periódico de la persona que se sentaba a su lado. He looked out of the corner of his eye at the newspaper ....
Mira bien que esté apagado. Make sure it's off.
Mira a ver si está listo. Have a look to see if he/she/it's ready.
Mirándolo bien creo que prefiero no ir. On second thoughts, I think I'd prefer to stay.
Lo mires por donde lo mires. Whichever way you look at it.
Mirar a alguien en menos. To look down on somebody.
No lo miran bien. He's not very highly thought of.
No mires. Don't look.
Mira, no me vengas con excusas. Look, I don't want to listen to your excuses.
No te quedes mirando las estrellas. = Do not keep wasting time
When both would work but have different meanings:
'Ves las estrellas.' and 'miras las estrellas.' both mean 'look at the stars' but with 'ves' it just means look in the general act of seeing them, 'miras' means view them with the intention of fixing your attention on them with interest, perhaps to learn something or feel something such as the grandeur of the universe.
A little extra!
Remember that mirar can mean 'to look at' - the 'at' is included so don't be tempted to always put 'a' after mirar.
Miró el reloj con disimulo. She glanced furtively at her watch.
Sometimes 'mirar' will however be followed by 'a' - why is that?
This 'a' is sometimes the personal 'a' that must go before a person (or a pet) when they are the noun receiving the object of the verb instead of doing the action of the verb.
When someone receives the action of the verb instead of doing it, they are called 'the direct object' . So when the direct object of a sentence is a person (or a pet) they must be preceded by the personal 'a'.
Eg: Estoy mirando las estrellas. I'm watching the stars.
The stars aren't doing the action of the verb (watching) instead they are receiving the action of the verb (being watched) but they are not a person or a pet so no personal 'a' is needed.
Estoy mirando a los niños. I'm watching the children.
The children aren't doing the action of the verb (watching) but they are receiving the action of the verb (they are being watched) and they are people so in this case the personal 'a' is needed.
At other times the 'a' is just part of a set expression and often means 'towards' or 'in the direction of':
Mirar algo = to look at something
Mirar a algo = to look in the direction of something
Mirar a alguien a los ojos. To look someone in the eyes.
Mirar a ambos lados antes de cruzar. To look both ways before crossing.
Mirar a la cámara. To look at the camera.
Mirar a otro sitio. To look away.
Mirar al futuro. To look towards the future.
Mirar al vacío. To look into space.