Look for, search, seek


someone could tell me the difference between these 3 verbs : look for, search and seek. In which cases, have I to use the first, the second and the last ?

thanks a lot and good night


Look at means just to actively view something. In French it’s regarder.

Look for is the same as search for and seek. They all mean chercher. They indicate that you’re trying to find something. Look for is usually more everyday language for ordinary situations. You look for your pen in the drawer. You look for a house you’ve never visited before, etc. Search for usually indicates something more organized or more difficult. The police search for a corpse in the woods. A movie director searches for the right actor for a certain role. The word seek is somewhat more poetic and archaic-sounding, although it’s not really archaic.

Keep in mind that in many situations look for, search for and seek can be used interchangeably. The police search for a criminal, they look for a criminal, or they seek a criminal. In that situation it really makes no difference.

Be careful to make the distinction between search and search for. Search is something like chercher dans. He searched his suitcase for some toothpaste. If the police search a man, they want to find out what is in his pockets. If the police search for a man, they want to know where he is. Many French speakers confuse these two. They’ll say something like “I search a new bicycle,” instead of, “I’m looking for a new bicycle.” Many English speakers do the opposite and make wrong sentences like, “Je cherche pour ma voiture,” instead of, “Je cherche ma voiture.”

Hi Christophe,

You asked:

Look for simply means try to find as in: I thought I’d lost my glasses and looked for them all over the house and then I realised they were on the top of my head.

Search is try to find in a very thorough way as in: The police broke into the house and searched every room from top to bottom because they believed drugs were hidden there somewhere.

Seek is to try and find often in an abstract sense as in: A philospher will spend many years in an endeavour to seek the true meaning of life.

Seek is also often used in a special sense/a sense of investigation as in: The police are seeking a man with a long black beard who was seen running away from the fire just after it had started.

Just one final point: the past form of seek is sought and is used like this: They have just bought a house in the most sought after area of town (the area where everyone would like to live).


thanks a lot Jamie and Alan for your explanations and your examples.