Im working as an assitant language teacher in Japan, and I
have a grammar problem that needs to be explained. Its
beyond me.

The situation is that there is a Japanese English teacher
breathing down my neck to "come up with a reason" why this
sentence is not correct

"The bird can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan".

The Japanese Teacher, doesn't think that WATCHED can be
used here. She thinks that its the wrong usage. But she
cannot explain why to her student.

So she has come to me the "native speaker" to explain
why....and for the life of me I cant.
I know I would never say that, it just sounds wrong.


"The bird ____ _____ _____ everywhere in Japan."

The corect answer in the book is supposed to be this:

"The bird CAN BE SEEN everywhere in Japan."

BUT..this student wants to say....

"The bird CAN BE WATCHED everywhere in Japan."

This does seem wrong....



-please advise quickly,this teacher is waiting now, and like
next period she has this student...
(and she doesnt want to lose face, by not "having an
intelligent answer" to hand over to the student,
which she will blame on me for not coming up with,
and therefore putting me in her bad books...etc and so on.



Both sentences are correct grammar.

It's not a matter of grammar. It's a matter of vocabulary.

"The bird can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan".

The verb 'watch' here means 'deliberately observe'. That's why amateur ornithologists are called 'bird-watchers'. They find birds and then deliberately watch them.

"The bird can be seen everywhere in Japan".

'The verb 'see' here means 'accidentally notice, accidentally have something appear within your field of vision'. That's why we say things like 'I saw my friend at the store yesterday'. but not 'I watched my friend at the store yesterday'.

The most likely verb to use here in terms of meaning is 'see' (ie can be seen).

Thanks Clive, I can work with that, and it does explain things better than I could have.

your a life saver!

Johnny in Japan

(who happens to be jolly..sometimes also)
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Wow, that's an interesting problem. I'll have a try.

So the correct answer is supposed to be "The bird CAN BE SEEN everywhere in Japan"?

To me, "THE bird" sounds inappropriate here, kind of pompous, or more suited to a wildlife documentary - but even then, THE might be acceptable with an impressive name, e.g. "The purple rumped walrus spends the summer months ..." but surely not THE BIRD! you're not referring to any specific bird, so why not just say BIRDS?

Secondly, birds can't actually be SEEN everywhere in Japan. If you look into your rice, you won't see a bird there. Unless it's chicken sushi. Instead you would say that birds "can be FOUND everywhere in Japan", or "can be found THROUGHOUT Japan".

Now the question of WATCHED. "THE BIRD can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan".

This implies a separate person (or animal) WATCHING a bird, or birds in general; that is, taking an interest in what "a bird", or "birds", is/are doing. Some people like to watch birds, and record bird calls and take photographs and video; they are called BIRD WATCHERS, so "The BIRD can be WATCHED ..." immediately associates it with the hobby. Whether or not that association was intended by the writer, it's not meaningful for a bird watcher to watch "THE bird", because the reader doesn't know what "THE bird" refers to, and has to assume that it means BIRDS, in general, not the birds he watches. Does that last part make sense? I'm not sure now.

"THE BIRD can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan". Definitely wrong.

"BIRDS can be FOUND throughout Japan" seems like the intended meaning.

You can (barely) say "THE BIRD can be FOUND throughout Japan". In this case "THE BIRD" means BIRDS in general, as a species. Like "The walrus" in a wildlife documentary.

You can say "BIRDS can be WATCHED throughout Japan", which implies a person/animal WATCHING bird/s.

To me, "THE BIRD can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan", taken literally, can ONLY mean that there is some specific bird, "THE bird", that must have been introduced in a previous sentence, and that no matter where you go in Japan, you can WATCH that bird. This is obviously ridiculous.

So it's not a very good question, but that answer is clearly wrong.

I'm not sure if that's conclusive but maybe it will help. Good luck!
I agree with Clive that it's not a matter of grammar. Grammatically it's not wrong. I think it's just a matter of the students' ability to recognize the standard phrasing of a sentence like this. can be seen, can be watched, can be looked at, can be viewed, can be observed, can be noticed, can be found, can be spotted, and even can be descried (!) are all, technically speaking, grammatically correct, but only can be seen is actually used - and possibly can be observed or can be found.

I assume this is too late for the quick answer you wanted, but I thought I'd add it anyway. Emotion: smile

I agree. It's not ungrammatical, it just fails badly at SAYING what it's supposed to MEAN, I think.
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Well there is alot of detail to your input to this question.

I was looking mainly for a reason why the watched sentence was not correct.

Your approach is alot more in depth,and i think a bit beyond me being able to explain to a Japanese Teacher at High school here...but thanks for it.

I myself will have to take a second look at what you have said, just for interests sake, as it takes a bit to wrap my head around it myself.


I already showed Clives answer, to the Lovely Japanese Teacher here, and was able to explain that answer to her, and it made sense to her, and she was happy to receive an answer she could use, before she had to see that student again.

So I didnt lose face, for providing a useful enough answer VIA Clives quick response..and simple enough answer to pass on..and She didnt lose face to her student, as she had to give him something....so its good all round...

Your answer is quite interesting though.....maybe it could be used on university students here?
CALIFJIM.....the answer Clive gave me was the perfect one for the situation and to me quite correct and on the nose and to the point.

As soon the focus was switched away from a grammar problem to being acutally a vocabulary problem, then...it was explainable and made perfect sense to me. It expalined what I felt sub-consiously I think, just knowing that the word watched was wrong...somehow...but the explaination was logical.

Thanks for contributing...your extra comment does add to clarrify Clives answer....

KrisBlueNZ"THE BIRD can be WATCHED everywhere in Japan". Definitely wrong.
"BIRDS can be FOUND throughout Japan" seems like the intended meaning.
I agree with this explanation because I see it the same way. It's a statement expressing general observation about birds, as in many species of birds, not a specific bird.
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