Last month we considered words and expressions that we use to describe the different ways that we look at something. We focused mainly on the language of looking carefully and looking for a long time. This week we’re continuing the theme, but this time we’re including words that we use to describe looking at or seeing something briefly.
One of the most common ways to describe looking briefly is the word glance. If you glance at someone or something, you look briefly at them and then look away: He glanced at his watch and stood up. A range of prepositions may be used after ‘glance’. For example, you might glance around a room or glance up from your book. Glance is also a noun: She cast a glance in his direction before walking off. If you sneak a glance/look at someone or something, you look at them quickly and secretly: While her bag was open I sneaked a glance at its contents.
Peep and peek are words with very similar meanings. Both convey looking for a short time, often from behind somewhere or through a hole. They suggest that the looker does not want other people to notice them looking: She peeped at them through the fence. / I saw him peeking through the curtains.
Glimpse is a ‘seeing briefly’ word. If you glimpse something, you see it very briefly and sometimes only partly: You might glimpse something, for example, from a car or train: I glimpsed the castle in the distance as we drove past. The noun ‘glimpse’ is also used, often after the verb ‘catch’: I only caught a glimpse of the car as they sped past. The adjective fleeting often comes before ‘glimpse’ to emphasize how short the glimpse is: I caught a fleeting glimpse of her dress.
Moving away from the ‘seeing briefly’ words, spot is a useful verb. If you spot something – often something useful – you notice it, usually after deliberately looking: If you spot any errors, do let me know. / I think I spotted Ben in the crowd. (In UK English, people often say well spotted to someone who has noticed or found something useful: ‘Hey, I’ve just found your glasses under the table.’ ‘Ah, well spotted!’)
Sometimes you see (or half-see) something that you are not looking at directly. For this, you can say that you see something out of the corner of your eye: I was watching TV when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.