The Grammarphobia Blog

Can kids see fun?

Q: I am working on a workbook for a children’s book, but I am stumped by this question: “What did Little Cub see on his adventure?” One choice is “Lots of Fun!” Can a person see fun? I am not sure how to word this and would appreciate your help.

A: A child (or a little cub) would not literally “see” fun. It’s something one has or experiences or encounters.

Although the verb “see” does have many nonliteral senses, its use with “lots of fun” wouldn’t be idiomatic.

You might use “discover” instead of “see” as your verb (“What did Little Cub discover on his adventure?”). Or is that too big a word for this age group?

 If you want to keep “see” as the verb, you might change the item to something like “Kids [or whatever] having fun.”

The word “see” has generally meant to perceive with the eyes since it first showed up in Anglo-Saxon times (spelled seon in Old English).

Here’s an example from the epic poem Beowulf, which is believed to date from the early 700s. (We’ve expanded on the OED citation, and changed the runic letters thorn and eth to “th.”)

Thær mæg nihta gehwæm nithwundor seon, fyr on flode. Modern English: “There each night may be seen a fearful wonder, fire on the flood.”

But “see” has taken quite a few other meanings over the years: see (that is, imagine) things, circa 1200; see to (take care of) something, before 1300;  see (realize) something, 1390; see someone in gambling, 1599; see someone home or to the door, early 1600s; see good in someone (1831), and so on.

And now we’ll see to our next question.

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