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In my grammar dictionary, it gives the example

あのステーキはおいしそうだった

but under the notes it goes on to say that 「そうだ」 can not be used with regards to past events or states.

  • 2
    There are multiple そうだ grammar points. You're sure it was referring to the same one? – Leebo Mar 27 '18 at 2:21
  • Absolutely, not hearsay, but "looks (like..)" – nehry Mar 27 '18 at 2:43
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    it goes on to say that 「そうだ」can not be used with regards to past events or states. -- Maybe it means you can't use "past tense+そうだ" (to say "it looks like it was delicious"), no? – Chocolate Mar 27 '18 at 3:19
  • The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar agrees that そうだ (looks like) cannot be used to express conjecture about past events. But the steak sentence looks fine to me because it isn't conjecture - it is based on visual information. In other words you are describing a scene based on your own perception, but it happens to be in the past. You can imagine a sentence like "The steak looked delicious but I'm on a diet so I didn't eat it". If not 美味しそうだった, then what? 美味しく見えた perhaps? – kandyman Mar 27 '18 at 12:00
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To answer your original question in the title (tl;dr), yes. The phrase is proper grammar.

Let's break this sentence up a bit:

あのステーキは[美味]{おい}しそうだった。
That steak looked delicious.

What you're probably confused about was the そうだった part.

It's probably easier to look at the part after the particle by splitting it into adjective + 〜そう and then だった, which is the simple past form for だ. Therefore, the above sentence is really just a past form for this:

あのステーキは[美味]{おい}しそうだ。
That steak looks delicious.

I think that the dictionary mentions the point of そうだ being inapplicable to describing the past is probably because you'd then have to conjugate そうだ into そうだった.

In addition, if you just look up そうだ in the dictionary, it can also be used and understood as something along the lines of "that's right".

0

When you describe "It looked like delicious" in Japanese, you can say like 「おいしそうだった。」.

i-Adj/na-Adj + そうだった = looked like (adjective)

Ex:
おいし そうだった。 (i-Adjective)
悲{かな}し そうだった。 (i-Adjective)
面白{おもしろ} そうだった。 (i-Adjective)
便利{べんり} そうだった。(Na-Adjective)
静{しず}か そうだった。(Na-Adjective)

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