Are you observant? (Do you usually notice what’s happening around you?) This week we’re thinking about words and phrases in this area.
A really useful word is the verb spot. If you spot something or someone that interests you, you notice them, often when you are trying to see them: I spotted Tom in the crowd. / Police spotted him leaving the building.
A more formal way to say ‘notice’ is observe: She observed a look of anxiety on her mother’s face. Perceive is another formal synonym. If you perceive something such as an emotion or a quality, you notice it: I perceived a note of unhappiness in his voice.
Other verbs are used specifically for noticing things that are not obvious. For example, to detect an emotion or a quality is to notice it, even though it is partly hidden: I thought I detected a note of sadness in her voice. If you pick up on something, you notice a detail that other people do not notice: If I express even the slightest degree of irritation, Maya always picks up on it.
A person who notices everything, even things that are hard to see, may be said to be hawk-eyed or eagle-eyed: A hawk-eyed neighbour noticed the man leaving the house and grew suspicious. / An eagle-eyed editor had already noticed the error. An idiom related to noticing things is to have eyes in the back of your head. Someone who has eyes in the back of their head sees everything that is happening around them, especially any bad or dangerous things that are taking place: You need to have eyes in the back of your head when you have a three-year-old!
And what about not noticing things? You might describe yourself as being unaware of something: If Sophie was upset by this, I was unaware of it. If you are unaware of something bad, you might use the phrase blissfully unaware: Tom and Anna weren’t getting on at all, and the whole time I was blissfully unaware of the situation. If you do not notice something, you may say it passes you by: Apparently, some people were very unhappy about the plans but that all passed me by. You might also use the phrase to go unnoticed. If an action goes unnoticed, it is not noticed by anyone: He did so much to help the organisation and I’m afraid it went completely unnoticed.
Someone who generally notices very little is unobservant: I have no idea what he was wearing but then, I’m fairly unobservant. Slightly stronger is the adjective oblivious. Someone who is oblivious does not notice anything that is happening around them: George, of course, was completely oblivious to what was going on.