That's an interesting point you brought up. I failed to locate a credible linguistic source explaining this matter. But here is mine based on my own knowledge:
- In general, these three verbs represent the action of "looking/seeing". But yes, there are some differences.
- "thấy" indicates a sense of sudden and/or surprise. For instance, "tôi thấy cô ấy ở khách sạn" (I see her at the hotel). Analysis: in this sentence, you (the speaker) demonstrates a sense of sudden or surprise (suddenly, you see her at the hotel OR you unexpectedly see her at the hotel).
- "xem" indicates an observation of an ongoing process. "xem" is closer to the verb "to watch" than "to see".
- "nhìn" indicates the action of looking and thus this word is more equivalent to "to look" than "to see".
May 17, 2016