Watch Out vs. Be Careful

“I always love to be careful with my expectations so that life has pleasant surprises for me.”

Sebastian Thrun, an innovator, entrepreneur educator and computer scientist

There are some words and expressions we often use in times of danger to draw people’s attention to something and/or warn them. This article is about such vocabulary. To be more exact, it’s about the phrases “watch out”, “look out”“be careful”, “beware of it” and “take care” as well as words like “warn”, “caution” and “alert”. Read on to know how to use the vocabulary right.

WATCH OUT vs. BE CAREFUL

“Watch out” is a phrasal verb used to warn someone of danger or an accident that seems likely to happen, that is “watch out!” is an immediate warning:

  • “Watch out!”, she shouted, but it was too late – he had knocked the tray of drinks onto the floor. 
  • Watch out! It’s rather wet over there! You are going to fall!
  • Watch out! The oven is so hot! You are going to burn your hand!

“(Be) careful” is used for telling someone to pay attention, to think about what they are doing so that something bad doesn’t happen. “(Be) careful” is not as immediate as “watch out” is:

  • It could be slippery, so please be careful.
  • Be careful – the stove is hot. 
  • Whatever happens, be careful.

“Watch out forhas more meanings than “watch out”:

  1.  Be careful, aware, or watchful of someone or something that may cause harm or distress: Watch out for snakes/bears/thieves!
  2. Be careful to notice someone or something interesting: Watch out for big discounts/clearance sales/latest movies!
  3. Make sure that nothing bad happens to someone: We love and always watch out for each other. “Take care of your mother, watch out for your sister…” (“Daddy Lessons” by Beyonce).

“Look out”, just like “watch out”, can be said or shouted to tell someone that they are in danger:

  • Look/watch out! The car is coming!
pexels-photo-708764

Look out! There is a bike coming!

BEWARE & TAKE CARE

“Beware” means be cautious (careful to avoid potential problems or dangers) and alert (quick to notice any unusual and potentially dangerous or difficult circumstances) to risks or dangers:

  • Beware, immigrating is full of problems. 
  • Beware of the dog/fakes/tricks!
  • Beware of mixing these design styles.

Note that “beware” is a serious warning about something very dangerous, and it can’t be used for positive things, unlike “watch out for”. In comparison with “be careful”, which is a general advisory, “beware” is more urgent. Compare:

  • Beware – poisonous chemicals.
  • Please be careful working with the chemicals. 

“Take care” is a synonym for “be careful”:

  • Take care on those steps! 
  • Take care that you don’t slip and fall in the water!
  • Take care not to tread on the cable.
  • Take care to lock all the doors before leaving.
  • Take more care with your training. 

But, unlike “be careful”, “take care” is also used for saying goodbye:

  • Bye now! Take care!

WARN, CAUTION or ALERT?

When we warn someone, we make them conscious of a possible problem or danger so that they will not be hurt. And when we caution someone, we warn them about a possible problem or danger. We may also alert someone, which means warn someone of a possibly dangerous situation. All the three verbs are synonyms, but “warn” must be the most commonly used. Let’s see some sample sentences:

  • Police are warning/cautioning all women in the area to take extra care when going out alone.
  • Recent studies warn/caution against drinking too much coffee.
  • Travel agents are not warning tourists about the dangers of crime in holiday resorts.
  • Scientists warned of the threat to beaches and rivers from pollution.
  • The report warns that consumers could end up paying higher prices.
  • An anonymous letter alerted police to the possibility of a terrorist attack at the airport. (Now the police are on the alert (paying attention to what is happening and ready to react quickly if necessary))