Saw or Seen? An Error’s Still an Error, Even if It’s Common!


It amazes me how often people make the wrong selection of saw or seen. Each word is a form of the verb ‘see.’ But each plays a different role.

Growing up in the south, I constantly heard people get confused over saw or seen. I still hear it. Often.

You’d think I’d become used to it by now. You might even think I learned to ignore it.

I haven’t.

Just the other day, I saw a promo on the cable network Investigation Discovery about an episode of a true-crime show. The commercial featured a woman whose relative was a crime victim. She told the story of the last time she spoke with her relative.

“That was the last time I seen her,” she said…(or something to that effect).

I cringe every time I hear that spot. She meant to say “the last time I saw her.”

Yes, the verb see is an irregular verb because it takes unusual forms when you conjugate it. But the verb see is such a simple word that you’d think there would be no such common confusion.

The present tense of see is see.

I see the mailman coming this way.

The past tense is saw.

Sherry saw the woman shortly before she vanished.

The detective saw potential evidence at the scene.

Then we come to the past participle form. That’s the form of a verb we use when we add a helping verb. The past participle form of see is seen.

The woman was seen driving off.

The last time Sherry saw the victim, she seemed fine.

The last time the victim was seen by Sherry, all seemed well.

Yes, our English language is always evolving. But the use of the wrong form of a verb is not a valid example of such evolution. It’s an example of an undereducated speaker misusing the language.

It bothers some people far less than it bothers others. That’s true of any mistake.

What pet peeves have you heard recently on TV?

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1 Comment

  1. It seems that those in television news have abandoned the perfect tenses, which drives me crazy. Then, when they do use them, they often choose the wrong one. Recently, I heard one local newscaster speak of a deceased person as “[He] lived in the community for thirteen years.” Well, he “had” lived in the community, which is true (even if another station’s talking head incorrectly used “has lived”). After listening to the report for some time, however, I could ascertain that the man “had been living” in the community for the thirteen years prior to his death. Why didn’t he just say that in the first place?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.