#253: 13 Powerful Verbs to Use for “Look” in English

Oct 5, 2022 | Advanced Vocabulary

Knowing when and how to use specific action verbs helps you to be concise, expressive, and more impactful when sharing your thoughts in English. In other words, your listener will likely be able to easily visualize the exact action.

In addition, knowing alternatives to the verb, ‘look’ strengthens your English-language skills as a listener AND as a speaker.

Let’s look at a quick example that illustrates this: 

  • Merla couldn’t help but smile as the interviewer looked at her, after hearing her answer. 
  • Merla couldn’t help but smile as the interviewer gawked at her, after hearing her answer.

To gawk means to stare openly and stupidly, as if being shocked or stunned. It is a very specific way of looking at someone. 

The word gawk transforms the story. Now, you probably have a mental picture of Merla saying something quite unexpected. And you’re probably curious what on earth it may have been.

This is the power and impact of expanding your English vocabulary.

In this Confident English lesson, you learn 13 Powerful Verbs to Use for “Look” in English. 

13 Powerful Verbs to Use for “Look” in English

Category 1: Specify An Extended & Attentive Look

When you look at something, or someone, for a longer period of time and with focus you may use the following verbs:

  • Scrutinize: to examine or inspect closely and thoroughly
    • Ex. Lena scrutinized the fine print of the job offer before agreeing to take the position.
  • Gape: to gaze stupidly or in open-mouthed surprise or wonder
    • Ex. David gaped as he watched his 2-year-old eat chocolate cake by the handful. 
  • Eyeball: to look or stare at someone/something closely
    • Ex. Lena could tell her dog was eyeballing the food on her plate and gave some to him. 
  • Observe: to watch carefully, especially with attention to detail or behavior
    • Ex. As she watched Bridgerton, Lena observed the Victorian-style decor. 
  • Examine: to inspect closely
    • Ex. As every accountant knows, it’s important to examine financial records carefully. 
  • Gaze: to fix the eyes in a steady intent look often with eagerness or studious attention
    • Ex. Ella gazed at her daughter as she attempted to crawl across the room.

What are the differences between these verbs? The intent. The intention, or reason, behind the focus may be different for each one.

When we use the verb ‘look’, we simply direct our attention and focus towards an object or person of interest. 

When the attention or focus is purposefully intensified, we scrutinize, examine, or observe. Similarly, we eyeball something, or someone, for close examination or judgment. Or if we stare out of wonder, we gape. 

However, unlike the previous verbs, gazing isn’t always linked to an intentional focus. When we gaze, we give a long, steady look while admiring or thinking about something, sometimes unconsciously.

In each of these scenarios, ‘look’ does not suffice as an equal replacement for the strong and specific intentions behind the focused “looks”. 

Category 2: Specify A Reactive Look

The verb “look” in English doesn’t express the emotions behind our intentional eye movement.

These verbs specify reactive looks that arise from various emotions: 

  • Squint: to look or peer with eyes partly closed
    • Ex. Jennifer forgot her glasses and squinted to read the words.
  • Side-eye: to give a sidelong glance or gaze especially when expressing scorn, suspicion, disapproval, or veiled curiosity
    • Ex. She couldn’t help but side-eye her son as he joked about her aging.
  • Glare: to stare angrily or fiercely
    • Ex. Ella glared at her dog when she saw he had chewed all her shoes. 
  • Gawk: to gape or stare stupidly
    • Ex. Ella gawked in disbelief when she found out she got the job.
  • Ogle: to glance with amorous invitation or challenge
    • Ex. They all giggled when they noticed Lena ogling the lead actor in Bridgerton.

As mentioned before, each of these “looks” are a reaction to a specific emotion.

By analyzing the context, we can say that each specific verb is linked to an emotion. 

We squint for clarity, side-eye to express disapproval, glare to express anger or frustration, gawk out of surprise and loss for words, and ogle when desires arise.

Category 3: Specify A Brief Look

Just the same, we use alternative verbs when a look is brief.

The following verbs are similar but used in specific ways:

  • Glance: to take a quick look at something
    • Ex. Sarah glanced down at her notes while she was giving a presentation.
  • To give [sb/sth] a once-over: to look at or examine (someone or something) in a quick way
    • Ex. She gave her presentation notes a once-over just before going on stage.

While a glance refers to a brief look, giving someone, or something, a once-over means to quickly examine. 

After you watch…

I have 2 questions to help you practice what you’ve learned in this lesson with powerful alternative verbs to ‘look’ in English. 

  • How do your friends look at you when you talk endlessly about your favorite book or TV show? 
  • Which word from today’s lesson is your favorite? Share your example sentence for the word.

You can share your thoughts – and your questions for me – in the comments below.

      ~ Annemarie


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