A reader wants to know if there’s a difference between the verbs supervise and monitor.
Both are synonyms for the act of overseeing the execution of a task or activity. Some speakers use them interchangeably, but they do differ in connotation.
Supervise implies more interaction than monitor. Supervisors have the responsibility of informing and directing, while monitors observe without instructing.
A person who supervises children is expected to step in if they behave contrary to expectations; a person or machine engaged in monitoring an activity is not generally expected to deal directly with a problem, but to alert a person in charge.
The noun form for supervise is supervisor; monitor serves as noun as well as verb. A supervisor is always human; a monitor may be a human being or a machine.
Monitor comes from Latin monere, “to warn.” It’s the monitor’s job to warn someone that some activity is not proceeding according to plan.
You might monitor your utility bills by keeping track of the monthly increases and decreases.
The Yankees also will monitor what the Brewers do with Rickie Weeks, who could be beaten out at second base by Scooter Gennett.
Just asking a child to monitor their own behavior will increase the behavior that you want and reduce the behavior you do not want to see.
Sometimes a monitor may be expected to act, but only in an extreme situation requiring immediate attention.
Police expected to monitor Rizzuto funeral visitation closely
Another noun for the person who oversees the work of others is overseer, a word which can bear a negative connotation.
Historically, an overseer was in charge of slaves or, in Australia, a band of convicts.
In modern Australian usage, an overseer is the manager of a sheep station or other rural property. In American usage, an Overseer is a member of a university governing board, or a religious leader.
In general American usage, however, overseer is still strongly associated with slavery; think Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind.