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So there are several ways to express something is "seemingly not ~":

  • ~なさそう
  • ~そうにない
  • ~そうもない
  • ~そうにもない (is this one even real?)

I was always taught ~なさそう in my Japanese classes, and it was not until I heard one of the other ones that I ever become confused about them.

After doing a little research on this, it seems that adjectives can only take ~なさそう. ex.

○ 料理がおいしくなさそう
?/× 料理がおいしそうにない

but that verbs can take any of the forms

○ 雨が 降らなさそう/降りそう(に・も・にも?)ない

So, my questions are a) is the above reasoning correct, and b) what are the differences/nuances of the latter three forms? Someone please set me straight on this; it's been bugging me for a couple years.

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1  
This is not the key point of the question, but I am not sure about the correctness of 雨が降らなさそうだ. Although I may say 雨が降らなさそうだ myself, I believe that the correct form is 雨が降らなそうだ and that in general, when the そうだ meaning speculation follows the auxiliary verb ない (instead of the i-adjective ない), it takes the form なそうだ. (more) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 3 '11 at 23:26
    
(cont’d) Both Daijirin and Daijisen (sense 1) agree on this. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 3 '11 at 23:27
    
イトウさん、フィードバックありがとう。「問題な日本語」っていう辞典はお持ちなら、「~なさそう vs. ~なそう」をトピックとした面白い項目が載ってる。「知らなさ‌​そうだ」っていうものだ。 –  istrasci Jul 3 '11 at 23:39
    
Thank you for the pointer. I do not have that book, but (in retrospect) I can imagine that it contains some story about the forms ~なさそう and ~なそう. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Jul 3 '11 at 23:45
    
@istrasci You can see for yourself that 〜そうにもない is real if you search BCCWJ. –  snailboat Jul 13 at 18:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Looks like you have done your research well. You are correct with verbs only taking そうに/もない。Although そうにもない is not grammatical though.

雨が降らなさそう you make an assumption based on current state of the sky.
雨が降りそうにない you have confidence that it wont rain (due to some extra information maybe).  
雨が降りそうもない you want it to rain but it seems like it wont (from extra information or from appearances)  

There is another common way to express the same idea, ~みたいです。only used in the affirmative. (ie, 「~みたいじゃない」ってだめです)

あの男の人は学生じゃないみたいです on campus you plainly state that guy over there doesn't seem like a student.
雨が降らないみたいですよ when you heard a broadcast or checked the web. よ shows your confidence here. But...
雨が降らないみたいですね is similar to 降らなさそう because you are looking for agreement with ね
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[You are correct with verbs only taking そうに/もない]. Did you mean "adjectives"? Because that's what I put in the OP. –  istrasci Jul 3 '11 at 19:25
    
i thought that そうもない should a higher degree, like 100% confidence that it wasn't going to rain? –  Mark Hosang Jul 4 '11 at 0:58

I just realized I didn't know the difference so I asked a native Japanese.

Here is the explation

降らなさそう

normal straigh meaning: "it doesn't seem to rain"

降りそうにない

this sounds like: "I though it would rain, but now it doesn't seem so"

降りそうもない

this is like the previous but も makes it more strong, like put an "absolutely" in front.

降りそうにもない

this is correct (same meaning that 降りそうもない) but a bit too complex for casual conversation. It's かきことば.

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Hehe, so it's your native speaker vs my native speaker. –  Gerard Sexton Jul 3 '11 at 23:25
    
:) well only the にもない thingy it's still unclear. My native said it's bit unusual and formal but not wrong. –  Uberto Jul 4 '11 at 7:49

Different types of ~そう

I think it's best to consider adjective + そう and verb + そう separately, because they have slightly different meanings. In particular, with verbs, そう has the sense of something close to happening or about to happen in the near future, but with adjectives... not really.

雨が降りそうだ。
It looks like it's about to rain. (near future)

彼女がうれしそうに手をふった。
She waved happily. (not the future)

あの料理は(まだ食べていないけど、)おいしそうだ。
(I haven't eaten that food yet, but) it looks tasty. (kind of maybe the future?)

Negative form of ~そう with verbs

Other answers have already mentioned that the さ in 降りなさそう is not the officially correct form, and I found an authoritative-looking answer on Oshiete! goo which agrees.

I believe that

  • 雨が降りそうにない
  • 雨が降りそうもない
  • 雨が降りそうにもない

all mean the same thing, and I found a link for that one too.

Difference between ~そうにない and ~なそう (verbs only)

「雨が降らなそう」is the normal negative, which just means "it doesn't look like it's going to rain. I think ~そうにない (and そうもない and そうにもない) not only add emphasis, but also imply "I wish it would happen, but it looks hopeless." Your earlier example 「僕にもわかりそうにない」, "It looks like there's no way I'm going to be able to understand it either" also fits this pattern. However, it's more difficult to back this idea up. I did find a link where someone wrote that 「授業に遅れそうにない」 seemed unnatural, but they couldn't explain why.

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