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I was thinking the other day that one of the differences between みたい and そう (meaning "it seems") is that the first can be bound to a sentence in the past while the second forces the verb of the sentence to be always in the ます stem. I think that difference allows みたい to create sentences like "昨日、雨が降ったみたいでした" meaning "yesterday it seemed like it had rained" (I don't know if the sentence or translation is right). Is that right?

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Yes you can use みたい after the past tense of a verb, but the copula after みたい does not have to be in the past tense.

昨日、雨が降ったみたいです。
(Looking at the ground) It seems like it rained yesterday.

昨日、雨が降ったみたいでした。
(Recalling the appearance of the ground I saw this morning) It seemed like it had rained yesterday.

雨が降りそうです。
(Looking at the sky) It seems like it's going to rain.

雨が降りそうでした。
(Recalling the appearance of the sky I saw this morning) It seemed like it was going to to rain.

Note the difference of the time of your judgement ("seems" vs "seemed").

  • I had understood that みたい was a more colloquial version of そう (actually I thought it was よう). How would you express "seemed like it had rained" more formally? As the OP points out, this doesn't seem possible using そう? – user3856370 Jan 17 at 8:36
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    @user3856370 よう and みたい are interchangeable in the examples above (昨日雨が降ったようでした). If you absolutely need to use そう, 雨が降っていそうだった is similar, but it's ambiguous. See also: how to use ~そう past tense – naruto Jan 17 at 10:04

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