Seen vs. Saw: Which Is Correct? (Helpful Examples)

Irregular verbs are all too common in English. It seems like one rule doesn’t fit them all, so we need to tackle them individually if we’re going to understand them. This article will look at the past tense of “see” and how to use it in its forms.

Seen or Saw: Which Is Correct?

“Saw” is correct when using the simple past tense. We do this to talk about “seeing” something in the past and having nothing more to “see” in the present. “Seen” is the past participle of “see,” which requires an auxiliary verb before it makes any sense in a sentence.

Seen or Saw: Which Is Correct?

Both verb forms come with different rules. We can see the differences much clearer with the following examples:

  • I saw that you took your name off the list for the tryouts.
  • I have seen things that I don’t quite understand.

“Saw” is easy to use, as it only requires a pronoun and the verb form to get right. The simple past tense is “simple” for a reason.

However, “seen” requires more than just a pronoun. It also needs an auxiliary verb like “have,” which turns it into the present perfect tense. Without the auxiliary verb, “seen” can’t be used in a sentence correctly.

  • I seen you.

The above sentence makes no sense, as the past participle cannot be used as a verb in this way.

These are the forms that you need to remember for this verb:

Past ParticipleSeen

When Is “Saw” Correct?

We’ll take a closer look at “saw” first because it’s much easier to understand.

“Saw” is the simple past tense of the present tense verb “to see.” We use it when talking about “seeing” something in the past and having no more to do with the overall action of “seeing” it in the present.

The simple past tense only needs a pronoun for it to work. The pronoun we choose is entirely based on the sentence:

  • You saw
  • We saw
  • I saw
  • They saw

Example Sentences Using “Saw”

Some examples will clear up any confusion you might have with the simple past tense.

  1. I saw that you didn’t want to take part, so I thought I’d come and check-in.
  2. What you think you saw is irrelevant because I know what really happened!
  3. You saw nothing, and you best remember that!
  4. He’s telling me what he saw the other day, and I can’t believe it.
  5. You think you saw me do something bad, right?
  6. We saw what you did, and we want you to apologize for it.

“Saw” means that something has been seen in the past and there’s nothing more that can be “seen” in the present.

When Is “Seen” Correct?

“Seen” is much more complicated because it introduces us to the idea of the perfect tenses.

“Seen” is the past participle, which is never correct in a sentence on its own. It needs an auxiliary verb like “have” to turn it into one of the three perfect tenses. “Have seen” is the present perfect tense, and the other two are the past and future perfect tenses.

To help you with the perfect tenses, we’ve put together a little example of each:

  • Past perfect:Had seen
  • Present perfect:Have seen
  • Future perfect:Will have seen

The past perfect and future perfect aren’t common, but it still helps to know how they work.

The past perfect uses the verb “had” before “seen.” The tense of the auxiliary verb changes to change the tense, but the past participle of “to see” never changes.

The present perfect is the most common form and uses “have.” We do this when we “saw” something in the past, and we continue to do so or have just finished doing so in the present.

The future perfect comes about when using the auxiliary verbs “will have.” This is something we do to talk about potential events that might happen in the future.

Example sentences using “Seen”

We’ll break up each perfect tense for you into sections. Once you’ve seen these examples, you’ll understand how each perfect tense is supposed to work.

Past Perfect

  1. I had seen enough, so I told them to stop before it was too late.
  2. We had seen everything that we needed to, and our final decision wasn’t difficult to make.

“Had seen” is the past perfect tense. We use it when “seeing” something in the past and choosing to do something about what we “saw,” which might have some kind of impact on the present.

Present Perfect

  1. I have seen enough, and I’ll write to your parents to tell them how disappointed we all are.
  2. You have seen the error in your ways, which is the first step to understanding yourself.

“Have seen” is the present perfect tense. This means that we’ve “seen” something in the past, and we continue to do so in some way in the present. It often has a direct impact on something in the present.

Future Perfect

  1. You will have seen too much of my plan if you don’t turn away right now!
  2. We will have seen every major landmark in this city by the end of the week.

“Will have seen” is the future perfect tense. It works by talking about possible future events or situations. Depending on what we do in the present, it’s up to us whether those events will become true or not.

“Have Saw” Vs. “Have Seen”

“Have seen” is correct because “seen” is the past participle of “see,” which means we need an auxiliary verb alongside it. In this case, the auxiliary is “have.” “Have saw” is incorrect because “saw” is the simple past tense and requires no auxiliary verb forms.

  • Correct: I have seen the light once more!
  • Incorrect: I have saw the error in my ways

Final Thoughts

“Saw” is the simple past tense, which comes with no extra rules and just talks about things we’ve “seen” in the past. “Seen” is the more complicated of the two, as it’s the past participle. You must remember to learn the perfect tenses before getting this right!

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