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Hi,
How do these words 'see', 'spot' and 'witness' different?

1.Did anyone witness the accident?

Can I use 'see' or 'spot' here?

Did anyone see the accident?
Did anyone spot the accident?

2.They were spotted by the police as they were entering the bank.

Can I use 'seen' or 'witnessed' instead of 'spotted' here?

Thanks a lot.
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Comments  
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See ( a more general verb) works with either, but witness and spot are not synonymous.

Witness is a passive activity; spot is a positive action.

Witness: to see, hear, or know by personal presence and perception.
Spot: to detect or recognize; locate or identify by seeing.

These are OK:

Did anyone witness the accident?

Did anyone see the accident?

They were spotted by the police as they were entering the bank.
They were seen by the police as they were entering the bank.
Hi MM,

Thank you for your good explanation.
When would you use 'witness' rather than 'see'?
When whould you use 'spot' rather than 'see'?

Thanks for your help.
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Use "witness" when you want someone to testify in a court of law, or informally to argue your case in front of other people..

"Spot" is usually seeing something very quickly or for a very short period of time.
It is also used when you are looking for something.

The birders spotted the Great Horned Owl flying overhead. (they were looking for birds).
The police spotted the robbers later on that day. (they were looking for them, and saw them for a short period of time.)
Hi AlpheccaStars,

Thank you for your help with my questions.

1."informally to argue your case in front of other people.."
Could you please explain what this means?

2.Is 'witness' usually used for formal occasions?

3.The birders spotted the Great Horned Owl flying overhead. (they were looking for birds).
I don't understand about the sentense. Do you mean the birders haven't seen the Great Horned Owl?

4.The police saw the robbers later on that day.
If I use 'saw' here, does it have the sense of looking for the robbers before seeing them?

5.Can 'spot' used for formal and informal situations?

Thank you very much.
1."informally to argue your case in front of other people.."
Could you please explain what this means?
I will give you an example.
Suppose that your brother is accusing you of taking his favorite book. He found his book in your room. You tell your brother "I didn't take your book.", but he does not believe you. How can you make your brother believe you? You find a witness.

Your sister witnessed (saw) your brother's friend taking the book, looking at it, and then putting it in your room. Your sister is your witness. She will tell your brother that you didn't take the book. She will argue that you are innocent.

2. In the example, it is not formal.

3. Birders are people who have a hobby of watching birds.. They try to find rare birds and identify them. They carry binoculars and books that have pictures of different birds. They get up before sunrise and travel to places where birds might be. Owls are especially hard to spot because they fly and hunt at night and sleep in the day time.
The sentence says that the birders were successful in spotting (seeing) the Great Horned Owl (a kind of owl). "Spot" means that they did see it, but only for a short amount of time.
4. The police saw the robbers later on that day.
If I use 'saw' here, does it have the sense of looking for the robbers before seeing them?
No, not as much as "spot". "Spot" has the meaning that the police were looking for the robbers, and saw them. "Spot" also has the meaning that it was a surprise (they didn't expect to see them), and they didn't see them for very long.
5. Yes.
"Spot" also has a meaning of surprise, such as seeing a very famous person when you didn't expect them. Here is a real example:
Brad Pitt was spotted leaving the seafront Lenval hospital Wednesday morning with his children Shiloh, 2, and Zahara, 3.
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Hi AlpheccaStars,

Thanks again for your great reply! I have the following questions, could you please help me with these?

1)He spotted/saw someone coming out of the building.

What is the difference in meaning between 'spotted' and 'saw' here?

2)Her modelling career began when she was spotted at the age of 14.

What does 'spotted' mean here?

3) "Spot" also has the meaning that it was a surprise (they didn't expect to see them), and they didn't see them for very long.

Do you mean the police didn't expect to see the robbers after looking for them?

Does 'they didn't see them for very long' mean 'they only saw them for a short period of time?

4)'They were spotted by the police as they were entering the bank.
Does 'spotted' here mean that the police were looking for them before seeing them?

5)Brad Pitt was spotted leaving the seafront Lenval hospital...

In your example here, does 'spotted' also have a sense of seeing Brad Pitt for a short period of time in addition to 'surprise'?

Many thanks.
Hi

Could someone please reply to my questions above?

Thanks!
Anonymous1)He spotted/saw someone coming out of the building.

What is the difference in meaning between 'spotted' and 'saw' here?
.>>> The main difference is "spot" implies an element of surprise, that he had been looking for someone to come out, and he only saw the person for a short time. "See" is much more neutral and ordinary.

2)Her modelling career began when she was spotted at the age of 14.

What does 'spotted' mean here?
>> It means that at age 14, she was an amateur (among thousands of other girls), and some agents from a modeling agency recognized (spotted) her talents. Agents look for talented athletes, actors and actresses, etc. The agency supported her in making a career.

3) "Spot" also has the meaning that it was a surprise (they didn't expect to see them), and they didn't see them for very long.

Do you mean the police didn't expect to see the robbers after looking for them? >> Yes, the robbers in my city try to hide from the police. They don't want to be spotted. If they are spotted, they run a high risk of being caught and put in jail.

Does 'they didn't see them for very long' mean 'they only saw them for a short period of time? >> Yes. If robbers know they have been spotted, they will run away very fast to escape.

4)'They were spotted by the police as they were entering the bank.
Does 'spotted' here mean that the police were looking for them before seeing them?>> Well, maybe not these particular individuals. But police are always on the lookout for robbers. Robbers don't enter banks very frequently, especially when the police are nearby.

5)Brad Pitt was spotted leaving the seafront Lenval hospital...

In your example here, does 'spotted' also have a sense of seeing Brad Pitt for a short period of time in addition to 'surprise'? >> The surprise is more important than the period of time. But generally, celebrities don't like paparazzi to see them, so they run away quickly too, like robbers from the police.

Many thanks.

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