I saw this as a comment on this question, Why does そう in 「美味しいそう」 not mean "seem" the way I think it should?「美味しいそう」-not-mean-seem-the-way-i-think-it-should,

and would love to understand the differences.

I am sure I will mangle the translation, so forgive me.

食べたそうだ Looks like he ate it.

食べそうだ Looks like he will eat it.

静かだそうだ I heard that it's quiet.

静かそうだ Seems quiet.

If anyone would be kind enough to explain the differences in meaning and usage, I would greatly appreciate it. I didn't learn how to embed the quoted question, so sorry again for that.

  • 「食べたそうだ」can be '①Looks like he ate it/I heard he ate it (食べた+そうだ=食べたらしい、食べたようだ)' and '②Seems like he wants to eat it (食べたそう+だ=食べたいようだ)'. Ah but the intonation is different.
    – user1016
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 5:17

2 Answers 2


The first そう comes after 終止形 of verbs and adjectives. All 終止形 forms, negatives, passives, causatives, present and past etc are possible.

This means "I hear(d)/read that... " (not looks/seems like as assumed in the question).

彼は死んだそうだ I heard he died
あのケーキは美味しいそうだ I hear that cake is declicious
彼は嫌われていなかったそうだ They say he wasn't hated.

This そう is often listed as a particle, but it really behaves like a noun, and is almost always followed by copula. It has no 連体形, i.e. 静かだそうな is ungrammatical (unless な is the sentence-ending particle). Also, the following copula is not used in the past tense, i.e. 静かだ(った)そうだった does not exist, but 静かだったそうだ does.

The second そう comes after the 連用形 of verbs and the stem of adjectives. 良い(いい) and 無い have irregular forms 良さそう and 無さそう. Negative verb forms ~ない become ~なそう, but ~なさそう is often heard, although it's considered incorrect.

濃{こ}そう, 静かそう, 行きたそう, 食べなそう looks dense, seems quiet, looks like sby wants to go, looks like sby won't eat

The result of this is a na-adjective meaning "looks ..." or "seems ...". For action and state-change verbs, it can also meen "about to ..." or "looks like sby will ...".

Being a na-adjective, this form can be used both in the 終止形 and 連体形 forms (and negative forms etc.),

美味しそうなケーキ a delicious-looking cake
このケーキは美味しそうだ this cake looks declicious

死にそうな人 a person (looking like he's) about to die
彼は死にそうだ (he looks like) he's about to die

  • How is this different from my answer? Looks like partly rephrasing it in terms of traditional grammar, but not all the way (acknowledging that they are noun or a na-adjective rather than "助動詞")? And by It has no 連用形, i.e. 静かだそうな, you mean it has no 連体形? And for this form, what about in folk tales: 昔、おじいさんとおばあさんがあったそうな。.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 1:52
  • @sawa Sorry, you still hadn't posted when I started writing my answer. I see there are overlaps, but I also provide some new information, such as そうだった and 良さそう. Is it faux pas to post overlapping information? I already fixed the 連体形. About the そうな, good point. I was never quite sure how to parse that construct in folk tales. I consider that use fossilized, though.
    – dainichi
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 2:06
  • I see that you started writing before I posted. No problem.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 2:07
  • @dainichi, thank you. what does sby stand for?
    – yadokari
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 2:29
  • @yadokari Somebody. Not sure if this is the best way, but I use it sometimes when English grammar requires a noun, but it can be dropped in Japanese. I think some dictionaries use it.
    – dainichi
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 2:41

The そう that takes an appositive clause is a formal noun (although in traditional grammar, it is not called so). It has reference to a general situation that one heard from someone else. Or, it may be considered a sentence ending. This happens in syntax.

'What I heard is that it is cold.'

'What I heard is that she ate it.'

'What I heard is that it is quiet.'

'What I heard is that the person is a Japanese.'

The -そう that attaches to a verb stem, adjective stem or an adjectival noun (a.k.a. na-adjective, 形容動詞語幹) is an affix that derives a na-adjective that means just about to. likely to, it looks like. This happens in morphology.

'It looks cold'

'She is just about to eat it.'

'It seems to be quiet.'

It does not attach to a noun. In order to express a similar meaning with a noun, you can use っぽい.

'The person looks like a Japanese.'

Since that latter -そう derives a adjectival noun, it can be used to modify a noun.

'a room that looks cold'

'things that she is likely to eat'

'a real estate in a quiet environment'

  • can these interpretations be valid for this? 食べそうだ "She is likely to eat it." "Looks like she'll eat it." If they are valid, how can one differentiate the meaning? ( 'She is just about to eat it.'is a different meaning than the others)
    – yadokari
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 1:21
  • @yadokari The difference comes from what temporal instance you are focusing on. In just about to-interpretation, it is mentioning that "she is likely to eat it in the next moment to come." So it is actually the same.
    – user458
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 1:27
  • @sawa Btw for the first そう (the sentence-ending そう), is "寒いですそうだ" a valid construction? What about "日本人ですそうだ" ?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:37
  • @Pacerier They are invalid. In general, subordinate clauses cannot be in polite form.
    – user458
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 13:22
  • @sawa Hey thanks for the reply =) Btw I was wondering does the meaning of the first そう (the sentence-ending そう) extends beyond physical-hearing? For example, can 静かだそうだ mean "I read (in a magazine/newspaper) that the place is quiet" ?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 13:56

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