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Here are the example sentences.

デイビットは料理が上手そうです。

デイビットは料理が上手なようです。

デイビットは料理が上手らしいです。

Firstly, what does デイビット mean as based on reading alone its sounds like 'debit' to me which is a strange name to have.

Secondly, all three of these grammar points have a similar meaning of 'looks' or 'seems' but obviously have nuanced differences and different uses. As far as I do know, そうです is used more for a first impression 'looks' or 'seems' than the other two but I could be wrong.

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デイビット means the name David. Maybe you should remove the paragraph beginning with "Firstly,...". –  Thomas Gross Jun 6 at 15:22
    
The /dd/ → /tt/ geminate devoicing is common in loanwords that contain other voiced obstruents (the /b/ and initial /d/ in this case). Compare ベッド → ベット but not ヘッド → *ヘット. (See Nishimura 2003 Lyman's Law in Loanwords.) This is unrelated to your main question, though. –  snailboat Jun 6 at 20:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

デイビット is actually David.

  • そうです indicates a similarity based on direct (probably visual) evidence i.e., David appears/behaves like a good chef based on what you see. In this usage, そう is attached to the i-form of verbs and stem of adjectives.

  • (だ)そうです is a report on what you've heard before. In this usage, そう is attached to the dictionary form of verbs, directly to i-adjectives, and with a だ behind na-adjectives.

  • ようです like the first そう, indicates an appearance you are directly observing, but more certain - a higher likelihood - than そうです. That is, David looks like he is good at cooking based on how you're seeing him cook. よう is attached to nouns and na-adjectives with a の in between.

  • らしいです indicates its something inferred from indirect evidence. In other words, David seems to be good at cooking (based on what you're heard).

Note that ようです can also be a somewhat non-committal observation. And らしいです (or more accurately, just らしい) can be used to describe an attribute, similar to using -like in English. e.g, 名探偵らしい -> detective-like, like a good detective, in a good-detectively sort of way. I hope that makes sense :p

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This is not based on any reliable sources or textbooks, but is my personal impression.

  1. デイビットは料理が上手そうです。

    Direct and active estimation, impression, or judgement by the speaker, based on his (David's) appearance, his way of speaking, rumors of him, etc. "I suppose David is good at cooking." "Seemingly David must be good at cooking."

  2. デイビットは料理が上手なようです。

    This is used to avoid assertive tones, or express weaker guessing than the first, not necessarily supported by good reasons active judgement of the speaker. It can also be used to repeat information by someone else, just like the third one. "Sounds like David is good at cooking." "I guess David is good at cooking." "They say David is good at cooking." (under certain context)

    (The degree of confidence is not really different between 1. and 2.)

    デイビッドは、見た目には料理が上手そうですが、実際のところは下手なようです。
    = David looks good at cooking, but the reality seems to be that he's not good at it.

    この本は(絶対に/もしかすると/多少は)面白そうだ。
    = (judging from its cover, etc.) This book looks interesting.

    この本は(絶対に/もしかすると/多少は)面白いようだ。
    = They say this book is interesting (in a review article, etc.)

  3. デイビットは料理が上手らしいです。

    There is no guessing of the speaker at all. "I heard David is good at cooking." "They say David is good at cooking."

Note that デイビットは料理が上手だそうです is not the same as the first one, but it's pretty much like the third one (They say ~).

この敵は強そうだ = this enemy must be strong; この敵は強いそうだ = they say this enemy is strong.

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While I really like this answer (especially the ~だそうです note at the end, this is new to me), I have been thinking of ~そうです and ~ようです the opposite way; that is to say that ようです is more strongly evidenced than そうです, therefore making そうです the weaker assertion of the two. When I was taught these grammar points そうです was said to be based on something you've heard or seen (limited to sight or sound), while ようです is based on all of the senses. In this case, you may say 「デイビットは料理が上手なようです。」 after seeing/hearing him cook AND smelling/tasting the food itself... Is my understanding backwards here? –  mousouchop Jun 6 at 17:03
    
Let's say you're playing a game and encountered an unknown enemy. You can say この敵は強そうだ, judging from its appearance. Saying この敵は強いようだ is OK, but sounds like as if you were reading a wiki page about the enemy. That's the difference. At first, in the former form, I felt you're estimating the strength of the enemy more "directly", exerting your sense of vision and hearing. However, as you pointed out, the latter form may be more strongly "evidenced" guessing, than judgement only by its appearance. Maybe it's not the matter of the strength of guessing, but is the matter of how you guess. –  naruto Jun 6 at 17:40
    
I edited my answer in the wake of the indication from @mousouchop. –  naruto Jun 6 at 18:14
    
+1 I like the note on level of confidence not being a defining difference between the two forms, but instead the level of judgement being used in making the statement (active/direct vs indirect); This seems to make sense to me. In the case of ~ようです, I imagine one could use this if for instance they can smell David's cooking from the living room, but aren't actively observing him in the act of cooking? –  mousouchop Jun 6 at 19:12

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