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I know when placed after a verb it means "seems like" or "looks like", but what I want to know is what the そう in

そう です か

means. I know そう です か means "Is that so?" but I've seen そう used with other words and I'm not sure what exactly it means. Does it even have a meaning on its own or is its meaning affected by the characters that follow it?

I know this might seem like a translation question but whenever I tried to search for an answer online I was only really able to find answers relating to how to use Sou when attached to verbs.

4

This 'そう' is an adverb which is similar to English 'so', or 'like that'.

  • そう思う。 (I) think so.
  • そうする、 (I'll) do so.
  • そう大きくはない。 (It's) not that big.

And you can use 'そう' by itself to mean many things, depending on the context and the intonation:

  • そう。 That's it. Yes. Exactly. Good.
  • そう? Is that so? Really? Are you sure?
  • そう。 Oh. Okay. Uh-huh. (not very interested)
  • そう、あれは10年前… Well, that was 10 years ago ... (used to recall something old)

'そう' that comes after a verb (e.g しそう, 思いそう) is an auxiliary verb, and it's etymologically different. One online dictionary has two entries for the adverb そう and the auxiliary verb そう.

1

It might also help to see that そう is part of a "KSAD" set:

こう - そう - ああ - どう Meaning: like this - like that ("close to you") - like that ("far away") - like what?

This is just like:

ここ - そこ - あそこ - どこ Meaning: here - there ("close to you") - there ("far away") - where?

In these "KSAD" sets of meanings, English usually does not have words which neatly distinguish between the S and A words, but in this case the association between "S" and the person addressed explains why そう can just mean "You're right."

Footnote: I made up the "KSAD" term myself, but apparently in Japanese these are referred to with the term 「こそあど」.

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The word "そう" can be meant in different ways.

One of which is as you mentioned is correct.

そう です か ---> "Is that so?"

Another example:

A: あの象は大きいと思う。

B: そうですか。。。

A: そう。 いつもそう思ってるよ。

When you say そう stand-alone, it means that you agree with what a person just said or did. This is also commonly used in verbal instructions, wherein a sensei says he notices that you have received his instruction very well, say in martial arts or Ikebana.

When you say そう as in the last sentence, the speaker is simply bringing up the original topic again. in this case how "big the elephant is".

Hope this makes sense.

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