I was reading up on the usage of げ, みたい, っぽい, らしい, そう, よう, and so on. Then, I came across a certain description on a website that ruined my day.

On this web page, the author states that 安いらしい, 安いそうだ, and 高っぽい are wrong. Now I am going to hazard my understanding below.

  1. 安いらしい (*mainly?) has two usages. One is for hearsay, and the other is for how someone/something seems to have a certain typical property (but usually positively so). The author says that if らしい is attached to 安い (an adjective), the usage defaults to hearsay (伝聞), and therefore wrong in that the other usage (様態) is the focus in question. I assume this means that らしい when preceded by an adjective can only be about hearsay. In the same article, the author says that only when preceded by a noun can らしい express the meaning of 様態. In other words, I assume that な-adjectives or verbs succeeded by らしい only has the meaning of hearsay.

    Is this understanding correct?

  2. Similarly, 安いそう is about hearsay. This time there is no other possibility, for the grammatical structure dictates so (安そう would be it). Again, I believe the author says it is wrong, because the hearsay usage is not the focus of the discussion in that part of the article. Does this mean that one simply needs to change the form into 安そう to fit the scope of the discussion?

    According to another website, not quite so. Here another author asserts that 安そう is unnatural:


    The author used two rather big terms, 言霊信仰, and 言語の経済学, to explain how 安そう is not ideal. I think I understand the point made, but do you agree with the author? Is **安そう** really not commonly used?

  3. The explanation given on another page on the first website says something to the effect that 高っぽい is incorrect due to っぽい's negative connotative nature. In other words, since one would usually view something factually 安い yet 高い appearance-wise as being positive, using 高っぽい to describe a cheap item would come across as strange. However, I feel that this is essentially more about context than prescriptive restriction. We all know 子供っぽい and 女っぽい are not necessarily negative. Do you agree with the author's view that **高っぽい** is illogical, and thus wrong?

*I feel like giving Japanese up already. Now the entirety of the question is based on what I could glean from the articles using my beginner-level Japanese. Please correct me if you find any misunderstanding of the text on my part. どうぞよろしくお願いいたします。

1 Answer 1

  1. Yes, your understanding seems correct. らしい cannot generally express the sense of having an appearance or property when attached to an adjective; only the hearsay meaning is applicable.

  2. Your initial understanding is accurate - at a basic level, 安いそう would express hearsay (that you heard something is cheap) whereas 安そう would express appearance (that something looks like it is cheap). Both are perfectly grammatical forms that will be easily understood.

    What the other page you linked is getting into a slightly more complex level, looking at the semantic subtleties of 安そう. In short, it can be used perfectly naturally in some contexts, but it is not nearly as common as 高そう when describing an object, mainly because 高い is perceived as a more inherent quality of an object than 安い.

    A 高い object has inherent value, and will fetch a high price no matter where it is sold, so it makes sense to talk about something being 高そう "looking expensive". However, being "cheap" is not an inherent quality of an object, but a decision of the seller - an object could have little inherent value but still be assigned a high price tag if the seller decides to price it as such. So it seems less natural to say that an item "looks" 安い. (This is quite different from English, where "cheap" has acquired an extended meaning of "low-quality" in addition to the literal "low price", and so we can quite freely say something "looks cheap".)

  3. I think it's worth noting that attaching っぽい to an adjective root is a very different process from attaching そう to that same root. そう is a productive suffix that can be added to the root of just about any adjective and produce the same basic meaning of "looks X".

    っぽい is also extremely productive in casual usage (in which it can attach to nouns, full adjectives or sometimes even full verbs to form the meaning "looks like X"), but it never attaches to adjective roots in this sense. It only attaches to adjective roots in its stricter, less casual and probably older sense as a very unproductive suffix that only applies to a handful of set words and produces quite specific meanings. It's better to think of these っぽい-suffixed adjectives as separate words in their own right, since their meaning can differ somewhat from the basic adjective they're derived from.

    For instance, あれは安いっぽい would be the casual, productive usage of っぽい meaning "It looks like that's cheap". However, あれは安っぽい is the unproductive usage of っぽい, and means "That is cheap-looking". Note that this is using "cheap" in the extended sense of "low-quality" which 安い doesn't usually possess in Japanese - this is a specific connotation that only applies to the word 安っぽい.

    As such, 高っぽい is unnatural on a whole different level from something like 安そう. 安そう is a perfectly reasonable construction that will always be understood but might not be very common due to its semantic subtleties. 高っぽい, on the other hand, simply doesn't exist as a word - it sounds plain wrong. (高いっぽい, meanwhile, can of course be used as a casual way of saying it "looks like" something's expensive. Note that this is quite different from saying something is 高そう - 高そう indicates you're looking at the object itself and saying it looks valuable, whereas 高いっぽい indicates you're deducing from surrounding information that something is actually being sold at a high price - eg. because it's on a shelf with other luxury items, or because you heard people talking in hushed whispers about how it's very sought-after.)

    The negative connotations of っぽい might be raised as one possible explanation for why 高っぽい doesn't exist while its corresponding 安っぽい does, but it's not a rule. Indeed, there are plenty of negative adjectives that don't have a っぽい form like this (Forms like つまらなっぽい and まずっぽい just sound plain meaningless). So no, I wouldn't agree that 高っぽい is wrong "because" it's illogical - it's wrong simply because the word doesn't exist.

  • Thank you. Your answer pretty much clears up most of my doubts nicely except for the part about 安そう. I guess I simply cannot wrap my ahead around the concept of how 高い can be inherent while 安い can't. When I read the part where the author explained how it was up to the seller to decide the price of an item, I felt it was irrelevant, since 安そう ought to be based on the speaker's subjective speculation. Moreover, a 高い時計 could be sold dirt cheap, could it not? I feel like something is missing for this argument to make sense (may well be something in my brain for that matter tho).
    – Yeti Ape
    May 24, 2018 at 11:31
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    I agree that the difference in "inherent-ness" between 高い and 安い is somewhat arbitrary, but I do feel that's how the words are perceived. As the page you linked suggests, it might have something to do with the fact that sellers have an incentive to charge as much as they think they can get away with, so it is much less likely for a valuable item to be priced lower than its true worth than for a cheaply-made item to be priced higher than its true worth.
    – Ben Roffey
    May 24, 2018 at 12:16
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    It might also be a factor that 安い usually has positive connotations, as in "a good price for what you're getting", which implies a low price relative to the item's worth and so can't possibly be inherent to the item itself.
    – Ben Roffey
    May 24, 2018 at 12:16

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