What is the difference between

I want to see the lights leave your eyes!


I want to see the lights leaving your eyes!


I would suspect, number one actually means, that you want so see somebody's lights leaving his/her eyes (aka the person dying) and number two on the other hand means, that you want to see the lights, that are (already) leaving someone's eyes. Am I correct and/or what is your opinion about this?

  • They both sound correct. The latter suggests you want to see the process of the lights leaving their eyes. Something that's leaving hasn't fully left yet. – Othya Jun 16 '15 at 17:45
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    The second suggests that the speaker wants to witness or observe closely the person's dying process in its entirety. It has a slightly more ghoulish effect IMO – Mari-Lou A Jun 16 '15 at 18:04

There is a subtle difference. Let's consider a parallel construction

I want to see the troops leave this country.


I want to see the troops leaving this country.

The first means I want the troops to be gone. The emphasis is not on the seeing, but on the result.

In the second there is a slightly greater emphasis on the process. The speaker may want to go to the departure point as it is occurring and relish in the transition.

In the example given, the first might be construed to mean I want to see you dead, and the latter as I want to relish seeing you as you are dying.

  • Very much so, I think – Margana Jun 16 '15 at 19:12

It depends on the context. Your example is particularly poetic so either way works.

"Leave" implies the event is near instantaneous. The lights are there, then the lights are not. Between the two cases the lights left.

"Leaving" implies it was a process that involved a non-trivial amount of time. The lights were there, then they were leaving, then they were gone and have left.

Depends on how you want to interpret the metaphor as a whole.


Your examples are not apt to make clear the difference that one may see in the two sentences.

  • 1 I saw the old woman cross the road. (ai-cs)

  • 2 I saw the old woman crossing the road. (ap-cs)

After verbs of perception as to see, to watch, to hear etc you can choose between

1a to see sb/sth do sth

1b to see sb/sth doing sth

The difference is one of aspect. In 1 you actually have two sentences: I saw the old woman and she crossed the road (fact).

In 2 you say: I saw the old woman and she was crossing the road.(in the act of crossing the road). Here the perspective is a bit different just as in a film when the camera shows someone in close-up. You don't stress the fact (yes, she did cross the road or No, she didn't cross it), you stress the moment and the act of crossing.

ai-cs - accusative + (bare) infinitive

ap-cs - accusative + present particple (or gerund; just as you want to see this ing-form)


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