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I know 看 and 见 both mean "to see". But they are used differently in different words. Like 看书 看电影...etc. and 见面 见识...etc. (Or do Chinese people say 见书 见电影 or 看面 看识?)

Is there a rules to use them differently?

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3 Answers 3

In Classical Chinese, 见 describes the action that you get visual information. It implies the result, but has no duration. 见 is more like to see, 看 is more like to look (at).

In modern Chinese, you probably will not use 见 as a verb. Instead, you say 看见, which consists of a verb 看 and a particle 见. In Classical Chinese, we say 不见, but in modern Chinese, we say 看不见 (cannot see) or 没看见 (did not see) depending on the context. 见 serves as the result complement of 看 here.

The 看 in 看书 and 看电影 does not mean to perceive with the eyes. You'd better take them as collocations.

见 can be used as a verb when it means to see/meet someone, or to see something unusual and widen one's knowledge. For example, 见客人, 见世面, etc.

见面 (to meet) literally means to see someone's face. 见识 literally means to see and then to know something. But I think dictionaries will simply list them as compound verbs, because you cannot guess their idiomatic meanings from their literal meanings.

In short, 看 and 见 either have different grammatical functions (verb vs particle), or have totally different meanings.

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They don't both mean "to see" exactly. Actually, both have multiple meanings, some but not all of which overlaps.

Possible meanings of 看:

  • To observe
  • To view (in appreciation)
  • To visit
  • To (visually) estimate
  • To be treated by a doctor
  • As a particle, it conveys the sense of "give it a try"

Possible meanings of 見:

  • To have seen
  • To visit
  • To meet (in the sense of to receive a guest)
  • To meet (in the sense of bumping into someone on the road)
  • As a noun, views, opinions, understanding

As you might have noticed, the usages of 看 tend to involve being focused on the act of looking. In contrast, 見 tends to be used in situations where looking is not the focus of the activity. The difference in focus would be a clue, though not an absolute rule, for you to decide which one to use in a given phrase.

Turning to your specific examples: in 看书 or 看电影, the character 看 takes the meaning of "to view, to observe, to admire" in the same sense as enjoying the view when sightseeing. 見 does not have an equivalent meaning for this usage. Thus, you might say 看風景 (sightseeing), but never 見風景; you could say 看得見風景 (the view is visible) however.

With the case of 見面, the character 見 is "to see" in the sense of to meet. Again, 看 does not have a completely equivalent meaning. On the other hand, 看 can be used to mean to visit. Therefore, you could say 見客 (receive a guest) but not 看客; whereas both 去看朋友 and 去見朋友 (to see a friend) are possible (but 去找朋友 might be more popular than either).

For the last one, 見識 uses 見 as a noun in the sense of "a view, an opinion, a understanding". Again, no equivalent in 看.

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The difference between these two characters is similar to that of "listen" and "hear" in English. 看 emphasizes the action of looking, while 见 prefers the result of see.

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