From what I've learned, when you put そうだ/です before nouns, it becomes そうな, and before verbs, it becomes そうに . However, I've come across a few sentences where そうに is used before a noun instead of そうな .

An example of this I've found: 「田中さんは美味しそうにケーキを食べている」

「ケーキ」is a noun, isn't it? I'm very confused about this.


Yes, そうに modifies a verb and そうな modifies a noun. But the modified word does not have to be directly next to the modifier. The modified word can come several words later.

In your case, 美味しそうに modifies not ケーキ (noun) but the next verb in the sentence, 食べている. This sentence does not directly say the cake looks delicious. Although you cannot usually say "to eat deliciously" in English, 美味しそうに食べる is a valid expression in Japanese. It means the way one eats something makes it look delicious.

  • 「(ケーキを)美味しそうに食べている」 feels to me to be something said by someone observing that the eater thinks the cake is delicious ("eating cake with apparent relish") rather than the observer thinking it looks delicious to them. In the former view 美味しい is the eater's evaluation of the cake inferred by the observer while in the latter it is the observer's evaluation of the cake inferred from (visual cues made by) the eater. But I think it can mean both, depending. Just thought it was a fine but interesting point.
    – goldbrick
    Apr 15 '18 at 16:52

I'm just started learning Japanese, though in unusual way ;) So, I may be wrong, but I wanted to add my two cents...

As far as understand そうに usually modifies word that precedes it first, and only then it modifies word that follows. In your sentence, そうに adverbalizes 美味し, which in turn modifies verb, as is usual for adverbs.

  • Unfortunately your sentence is grammatically incorrect...
    – Earthliŋ
    Aug 19 '18 at 11:22

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