Keeping an Eye – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you baking a cake and are you not sure when it needs to come out of the oven? Have you noticed someone suspicious in your neighborhood? You'll want to "keep an eye on" both of these things! Keep reading to learn more about the meaning of this phrase, and to find out how to use it.


Two closely-related but distinct phrases that use the words "keeping an eye" are used in the English language:

"Keeping an eye on" someone or something means to pay close attention to the target, or watching it very carefully. When someone says this, they will already know where the object or person in question is.

"Keeping an eye out for" someone or something means to be alert, or to promise to look for the person or thing in question.

Both phrases refer directly to the fact that we use our eyes to see. When you "keep an eye" on or out for someone or something, you say that you will observe or look for someone or something.

​​​Example Usage

Are you curious how you can put the phrase "keeping an eye" into action?

These examples look at "keeping an eye on" someone or something:

  • "Your son's asthma is under control for now, but we will continue to keep a close eye on the situation and change his medication as needed."
  • "I have to go to the grocery store. Will you keep an eye on your baby sister while I'm gone?"

These sentences illustrate how the phrase "keeping an eye out for" someone or something can be used:

  • "Oh, you lost your house keys? I haven't seen them, but I'll keep an eye out!"
  • "Keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. Several car thieves have been spotted in the area."


Most common English phrases and idioms can be traced back, at least approximately, to a certain point in time. The phrases "keeping an eye on" and "keeping an eye out for" are an exception.

It is unknown when these phrases first entered the English language.

One explanation for this fact is that these phrases have been in use for a very long time — since before recording phrases in writing became common.

The two phrases that incorporate "keeping an eye" are intuitively understood. We use our eyes to see things.

Keeping an eye on someone or something means to follow it closely, already knowing what or where it is.

Keeping an eye out for someone or something means that you don't currently know where it is. It would make sense, then, that the eye needs to "see further"; you're looking so carefully that you keep your eye "out".

The military hand signal for "look" further illustrates how intuitive these phrases are — it involves pointing to your eyes with your index and middle fingers and then pointing to the target.

​Phrases Similar to Keeping an Eye

Similar phrases include:

  • Keeping your eyes peeled (meaning "open")
  • Keeping your eyes open

Many other phrases directly refer to the fact that we use our eyes to see:

  • That looks good
  • Looking it over
  • I'll see (if I have time for that, etc)

​Phrases Opposite to Keeping an Eye

The phrase "being in the dark" about something is often used to describe not knowing something. This phrase is opposite in that you cannot see when you are in the dark.

​​What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct phrases are "keeping an eye on" someone or something and "keeping an eye out for" someone or something. They both mean that you will pay close attention.

​​​Ways People May Say Keeping an Eye Incorrectly

English learners should know that "keeping an eye" on or out for something does not require constant looking. If you are asked to "keep an eye" on a meal on the stove, checking in every few minutes is usually sufficient.

​​​Acceptable Ways to Phrase Keeping an Eye

You can use the phrase "keeping an eye on" someone or something to indicate that you'll be paying close attention. The phrase "keeping an eye out for" someone or something means that you'll be looking to see if you can find the person or thing.

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