'Seen' vs 'Saw': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on December 20, 2022

Should you use ‘see’ or ‘saw’? And what’s the difference between the two words anyway? We’ll discuss that in detail in this article. Plus, you’ll learn how to use both words appropriately in a sentence.

Don’t feel like skimming for the answer? Here’s the short one:

  • ‘Seen’ is the past participle of ‘see.’
  • ‘Saw’ is the past tense of ‘see.’

‘Seen’ vs. ‘Saw’ – See How Well You Know the Difference 

They’re both forms of the word ‘see,’ but ‘seen’ is the past participle, while ‘saw’ is the past tense of the word.

‘Seen’ vs. ‘Saw’ – Which Word Should You Use?

So, now that you know the difference, which should you use?

Well, that depends.

Seen is the past participle. A past participle is the form of a verb, typically ending in ‘ed’ in English, that’s used for forming perfect and passive tenses. It usually expresses a completed action and is derived from a verb.

‘Saw’ is just the past tense form of the word 'see.'

They both have similar meanings and usage, which can make them tricky to learn to use correctly. But here’s the key.

Anytime you’re referring to sight in the past tense without a helping verb, use ‘saw.’


  • I saw a woman walking six dogs yesterday.

Now, when using ‘seen,’ remember that it needs a helping verb to help complete its meaning in the sentence. The verb used is usually a form of to be, such as:

  • Was
  • Is
  • Am
  • Will Be
  • Were
  • Are

Or it might also be a form of the verb to have, such as:

  • Have
  • Will
  • Has
  • Have

We’ll show you a few more examples a little later, but first, let’s define the words.

Definition and Meaning of ‘Seen’ and ‘Saw’

The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘seen’ is “past participle of see.” That means we’ll need the definition of 'see' in order to truly define ‘seen.’

Meaning of ‘Seen’

The definition of ‘see’ is: “to perceive by the eye,” “to perceive or detect as if by sight,” “to be aware of: recognize,” “to imagine as a possibility: suppose,” “to form a mental picture of: visualize,” “to perceive the meaning of importance of: understand,” “to come to know: discover,” “to be the setting or time of,” “to have experience of: undergo,” “examine, watch,” “read,” “to read of,” “to attend as a spectator,” “to make sure,” “to take care of: provide for,” “to find acceptable or attractive,” “to regard as: judge,” “to prefer to have,” “to call on: visit,” “to keep company with especially in courtship or dating,” “to grant an interview to: receive,” “accompany, escort,” and “to meet (a bet) in poker or to equal the bet of (a player): call.”

It also means: “to apprehend objects by sight,” “to have the power of sight,” “to perceive objects as if by sight,” “to look about,” “to give or pay attention,” “to grasp something mentally,” “to acknowledge or consider something being pointed out,” and “to make investigation or inquiry.”

As a noun, it means: “a seat of a bishop’s office, power, or authority,” “a cathedral town,” “cathedra,” and “the authority or jurisdiction of a bishop.”

Meaning of ‘Saw’

The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘saw’ is: “past tense of see” and “a hand or power tool or a machine used to cut hard material (such as wood, metal, or bone) and equipped usually with a toothed blade or disk.”

It’s also defined as: “to cut with a saw,” “to produce or form by cutting with a saw,” “to slash as though with a saw,” “to use a saw,” and “to cut with or as if with a saw,” “to undergo cutting with a saw,” “to make motions as though using a saw.”

As a noun, it’s defined as: “maxim, proverb.”

How to Use ‘Seen’ in a Sentence

Now that you know what the words mean let’s see some examples of how to use them in sentences.

Take a look at a few examples of how to use ‘seen’ in a sentence.

  • I’ve never seen that movie before; maybe we can watch it tonight.
  • I’ve seen how hard you work. You deserve a margarita.
  • She’s seen every single Fast and Furious movie that came out.
  • I haven’t seen all of the sights I planned on seeing on this trip.
  • My sister hasn’t seen her bedroom floor in six months. My mom finally made her clean it.
  • I haven’t seen Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday series on Netflix yet. Is it good?

How to Use ‘Saw’ in a Sentence 

Now, let’s see some examples of how to use ‘saw’ in a sentence correctly.

  • She saw three ducklings crossing the street the other day.
  • Lisa saw her daughter graduate from kindergarten last week.
  • I saw a terrible car accident today on my way home from work.
  • He used a saw to cut the wood to make the treehouse for his son.
  • I’m not sure what I saw; there was so much happening all at once.
  • I saw a lot of family over the holiday break.

Concluding Thoughts on ‘Seen’ and ‘Saw’

Now that you know exactly what both words mean, you can use them in your writing correctly, using the above examples as a guide.

Still a little unsure about the usage? Don’t worry; you can always bookmark the page and come back whenever you need to.

We’ve also got a ton of other content that can help you with confusing words and phrases whenever you get stuck.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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