Branching off from the comments to this question: Do I say えいがにみました or えいがをみました ?:


The comment says 映画に見た is valid for "I saw it in a movie". I went to search for example sentences and found both に見た and で見た excluding adverbial types like ~的に見た, ~ように見た.

I found an instance of co-existence of に and で: 夢に見る and 夢で見る

I also found that a large amount of で見る results from < medium >で見る:

  • 新聞で見る
  • 雑誌で見る
  • テレビで見る

The purpose of this question is to reconcile the simultaneous existence of Xに見る and Xで見る for the same X

My thoughts so far:

I think both に and で are possible for some cases. YをXに見る places the person in the "physical" position X in order to see Y. YをXで見る is what I'm familiar with, and it says X is a medium for which the person sees Y.

I think for テレビ, only で is available, because you cannot be physically placed in テレビ.

While for 夢, both に and で are available; you can see it because you are in the 夢 and also because 夢 is a medium

If I were to force a translation of 映画に見る vs. 映画で見る, the former would be "I saw it at the movies", the latter would be "I saw it in a movie". I.e. I think に is locative and で is instrumental.

From the corpus search using BCCWJ:

  • There are 5 results from using 映画に見 as a search term
  • There are 36 results from using 映画で見 as a search term

It seems both に and で can be used, with で being more common.
What does the use of に do to the sentence?
What circumstances would cause に to be preferred?


2 Answers 2


Both 「[映画]{えいが}[見]{み}る」 and 「映画見る」 are correct and natural-sounding phrases but they have fairly different meanings from each other.

「映画見る」 is the simpler and more often used of the two.

If you saw a certain thing, town, car, house, actor, etc. in a movie, you 映画 those things を見た. Those tangible objects just physically appeared on the screen and you saw them with your eyes.

「映画見る」 is less often used and it is more analytical in meaning than 「映画見る」.

We use the phrase when talking about how abstract ideas are depicted in films. For instance, you can say things like 「映画見るアメリカ文化」= "American culture dipicted in films", 「イタリア映画見る性差別」= "sexism depicted in Italian films", etc.

In informal speech, however, some people actually would say those phrases above using で, but it would sound more proper and refined if you used に for this meaning.

To explain this important difference from another angle, the verb 「見る」 has different nuances in the two phrases.

In 「映画見る」, 「見る」 simply means "to see". If you only had your eyes open, you saw the thing because it appeared in the film. No thinking or analyzing is involved.

In 「映画見る」,「見る」 implies "to (carefully) observe for analysis."

Unlike what OP states, the same (the に and で difference) goes for the other media than films as well. We can say 「テレビ見る~~」.

Finally, because of all that I have discussed, it is also completely correct and natural to say 「ラジオ見る~~」 but not 「ラジオ見る~~」.

  • 4
    Ooh I like that example with ラジオ a lot. It makes it very clear
    – Flaw
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 13:09
  • I'm now imagining a robot with old-style transistor radios for eyes. Then they really could ラジオ見る. 😄 Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 2:32

They are different. AにXをみる means you find abstract things against something. For examples, その映画に人生の意味を見た (I found sense of the life in/out of the movie), その人にイエスを見た (I found Jesus in him/her) etc.

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