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In most cases, そう or よう work fine for explaining perceptions like 'looks like'. However, in English, it's possible to be more specific, for example, using 'sounds like' instead.

This occurred to me when I could hear fireworks out the window, but couldn't see where they were. I could explain that they seem close by saying 花火は近そうです or something similar. However, I'd have thought this would imply that I can see them, and they look close.

I think direct translation would be 花火は近く聞こえるようです、but I'm not entirely sure that has the intended meaning, or even makes sense at all.

Is it possible to express specifically that the fireworks sound close rather than looking close, or must it be explained otherwise, by saying that they sound loud, or that I can't see them?

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    近く聞こえるようだ means that you don't hear it yourself. – user4092 Aug 29 '17 at 10:53
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You can say ...の音が近い. And it implies the distance between you and a sound source is close (in this case fireworks). 花火は近そうです explains you have the mental image of "the distance between I and fireworks seems close" concluded by what you actually hear it or what you see it or what you are told by someone else and so on. After or before that, you can give more opinions by saying loud or something else.

  • I think 花火の音が近い might lose some of the nuance. Saying that the fireworks sound close doesn't necessarily mean that they are close, because they might far away but louder than I expect. Would it work to say 花火の音が近いよう? Also, why does 花火は近そう imply second person? – M Palmer Aug 31 '17 at 7:41
  • Subjectively speaking yes. I reckon that you are able to say 花火の音が近い to imply that what you have heard is louder than you had expected. But I think ...の音が近い usually implies the physical distance between you and a sound source is close. As for the second person case of 花火は近そうです, assuming that you are in the building which has good soundproof walls but you are able to hear fireworks loud, then you are unsure about how far the fireworks are. – user25382 Aug 31 '17 at 8:57
  • So, you are asking a colleague if there are fireworks nearby or not. If your colleague tells you that the fireworks are close, then you might believe that fireworks are being held nearby without doing any reality check for the distance(ex: going out to see them).As for 花火の音が近いよう。It is saying like "It sounds to me that fireworks sound close." – user25382 Aug 31 '17 at 8:57
  • I'm still not quite sure I understand why it's in second person. "the distance between you and the fireworks seems close to me" would mean that the fireworks are be close to the listener rather than the speaker (in the speaker's opinion), however I'm not sure why this is. The original sentence 花火は近そうです doesn't mention what the fireworks are close to, so I'd have thought that it would be assumed that the fireworks were close to the speaker, as the listener would know that there don't seem to be fireworks nearby to their location. – M Palmer Aug 31 '17 at 9:32
  • I really apologize that I might have unnecessarily made you confused." the distance between you and the fireworks seems close to me" I might have considered that "花火は近そうです" implies fireworks are close to the listener rather than the speaker. Because I think 花火は近そう implies the speaker is ambiguous about that the distance between the speaker and fireworks is close, it might imply the distance between the listener and the fire works is closer than that. But it's unnatural.It should be 花火は近そうです explains you have the mental image of "the distance between I and fireworks seems close" I'm sorry. – user25382 Aug 31 '17 at 10:26

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