ob·​serve əb-ˈzərv How to pronounce observe (audio)
observed; observing

transitive verb

: to conform one's action or practice to (something, such as a law, rite, or condition) : comply with
failed to observe the law and as a consequence had to pay a fine
: to inspect or take note of as an augury, omen, or presage
observed the flight of the sacred geese
: to celebrate or solemnize (something, such as a ceremony or festival) in a customary or accepted way
observed Independence Day with a parade
: to watch carefully especially with attention to details or behavior for the purpose of arriving at a judgment
observed the behavior of the children
: to make a scientific observation on or of
observed the mating habits of the grouse
: to come to realize or know especially through consideration of noted facts
observed that the indefinite reduction of any given risk to society often brings with it an increase in other risks.E. L. Zebroski
: to utter as a remark
"The paint," she observed, "is already starting to peel."

intransitive verb

: to take notice
When your teacher is demonstrating something, sit up and observe!
: to make observations : watch
Perform your tricks, and we will observe.
: remark, comment
In her speech she observed on the changing climate.
observingly adverb
Choose the Right Synonym for observe

keep, observe, celebrate, commemorate mean to notice or honor a day, occasion, or deed.

keep stresses the idea of not neglecting or violating.

kept the Sabbath by refraining from work

observe suggests marking the occasion by ceremonious performance.

not all holidays are observed nationally

celebrate suggests acknowledging an occasion by festivity.

traditionally celebrates Thanksgiving with a huge dinner

commemorate suggests that an occasion is marked by observances that remind one of the origin and significance of the event.

commemorate Memorial Day with the laying of wreaths

Example Sentences

The class will be observing the movements of fish. The patient must be observed constantly. Children learn by observing their parents and others. The new teacher will give the lesson today and the principal will observe. We observed a large flock of birds heading north. He observed two children playing with marbles on the street corner. She observed that every man in the room had removed his hat. Few cases of the disease have been observed in humans. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The incident began about 12:20 p.m. Monday when an Illinois state trooper observed Schaefer driving westbound on I-88 at a high rate of speed at the Washington Street exit in Naperville, a news release from the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office and Illinois State Police Troop 15 said. Naperville Sun Staff, Chicago Tribune, 24 May 2023 The first video was taken by an MQ-9 Reaper drone whose camera was observing another Reaper flying nearby. Michael Peck, Popular Mechanics, 17 May 2023 Instead of immediately investing thousands of dollars in building projects and agricultural tools, observe the land carefully for a full year before diving in. Chris Moody, Anchorage Daily News, 16 May 2023 The exceedingly detailed understanding of the natural environment held by the Great Andamanese people—Nao Jr. named at least six varieties of seashore and more than 18 kinds of smell—indicates a culture that observed nature with deep love and acute interest. Anvita Abbi, Scientific American, 16 May 2023 But that event was much shorter, observed for a little more than ten hours. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 16 May 2023 As the Air Jordan creation-myth biopic Air makes its way to the multiplex Wednesday, the movie’s screenwriter, Alex Convery, can’t avoid observing certain ironies. Vulture, 15 May 2023 Brammall observes that the similar receptions to both programs could point to an appetite for shows written by its main stars, especially ones that trade in more personal subject matter. Manori Ravindran, Variety, 12 May 2023 Webb telescope spies evidence of hidden planets around nearby star Astronomers used the James Webb Space Telescope to observe massive belts of dust around a nearby star that suggest hidden planets are orbiting it. Alexandra Meeks, CNN, 9 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'observe.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French observer, from Latin observare to guard, watch, observe, from ob- in the way, toward + servare to keep — more at conserve

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of observe was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near observe

Cite this Entry

“Observe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/observe. Accessed 6 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


ob·​serve əb-ˈzərv How to pronounce observe (audio)
observed; observing
: to act in agreement with : obey
observe the law
: to celebrate or honor (as a holiday) with special events or customs
: to watch carefully
observed how the food was prepared
: to make a scientific observation of
observe an eclipse
: to come to understand or know especially by thinking about facts that have been noted
I have observed that it happens more often on Tuesdays
: to say as a remark
observed that it was a fine day and we agreed
observer noun

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