So it is a popular quote in The Sixth Sense movie. But I wonder if it could be used when you are seeing dead people at the present time. Because I think it sounds unnatural when it is said "I am seeing dead people". And people ask from someone who is seeing this at the moment "What do you see?" not "What are you seeing?". So HELP I am tired of this English thing, so many paradoxes, I am neither American nor British.

  • Whether you are talking about past, present, or future must be established by the context of the sentence.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 11:49
  • You're correct. Certain verbs like see are rarely used in the progressive form: a related question is Is it really wrong to say “I'm hearing”?
    – herisson
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 11:02

2 Answers 2


Sorry, I may have missed the basis of your question, but I'll try and clarify it as much as possible for you. Well, grammar-wise it's perfectly okay. "I see dead people" is a sentence in the present tense, so it seems to fit. You're right that most people would not say, "I am seeing dead people" but that's grammatically correct as well. About "What do you see?" and "What are you seeing?", both of them are used in variable contexts. If the person sees something momentarily, or has just seen something, you would use the first question. If the person has been looking at something for a while, then you would use the second, but personally I would not use the verb 'see' there - it just feels out of place. To return to the topic, the quote is grammatically valid, even though it's logically messed up, because "How do you see dead people?" I hope that clears your doubts, and please tell me if I completely missed the point of your question.

  • Sorry for missing the basis. I am asking that how do people differentiate whether it is Past Simple or Present Simple. But as Hot Licks said, I think it depends on the context of the sentence whether it is Past Simple and Present Simple. Also correct me if I did any grammatical or composition mistakes. Also thanks for answering, it really did help me.
    – ikigai20
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 14:19

Firstly there is a difference between US and British English. I shall answer for my variety of British English.

"I see dead people." - This means that I regularly see dead people. This might be said by a mortician for example. Seeing dead people is part of their job.

"I am seeing dead people." - This might be said by someone who is having a hallucination but doesn't believe it represents reality. It means "I am currently seeing dead people at this very moment".

"I can see dead people." - This says that right now there are actual dead people in my field of view. Someone might say it when looking at a battlefield.

The above examples are not exhaustive. There are contexts that could change the meanings. I have avoided giving them so as not to confuse you further.

Don't expect English (or indeed any human language) to be entirely logical. You cannot learn a language by simple rote memorisation of rules. You need to read and listen to actual people speaking.

Note: It is a good idea to decide whether you want to learn American or British English (or some other variety) and mention that when you ask a question.

  • 2
    Also "I am seeing dead people" = "I am involved in informal romantic relationships with dead people"
    – Mitch
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 12:32
  • Thanks for your answer! really helped
    – ikigai20
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 14:19

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