Difference between そう and よう

We just learnt ようです in class today however i’m a little confused on the difference between そう and よう。I’ve read some explanations saying the difference is in the senses, for example “そう” is used only with sight but “よう” is used with other senses. However, in the example of “美味しそう” of course upon seeing something you would use the aforementioned phrase, but you can also use this term upon smelling something nice e.g freshly baked bread; or for example if someone at a restaurant was explaining a menu to you (hearing). So that explanation doesn’t hold up.

I’ve also read that the degree of certainty on the supposed fact was the difference between the two but when i’ve read explanations there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus on which way round it is. Some say “よう” is more certain and some say “そう”

This leads me to believe the difference is in the construction of the sentence, but i’m not exactly sure in what way.

Is there anyone who can explain the difference?

Maybe @Leebo, since they are very knowledgeable. Anyone else able to help?

Thank you in advance!

Edited to correct 美味しいそう to 美味しそう

straight from dictionary of basic japanese grammar

(A)Sentence だろう expresses the speaker’s conjecture, but it is not necessarily based on any information. In other words, Sentence だろう can be used when the speaker is merely guessing.

(B)Sentence らしい usually expresses the speaker’s conjecture based on what the speaker has heard or read. That is, the information his conjecture is based on is not firsthand.

(C)Sentence そう expresses the speaker’s conjecture about what is going to happen or the current state of someone or something. Although this expression is based on what the speaker sees or feels, it is merely his guess and the degree of certainty in his statement is fairly low. Only Verb ます or Adjective (い/な) stem can precede そう .

(D)Sentence よう is also an expression which is usually based on what the speaker sees or saw. However, unlike Sentence そう, this expression involves the speaker’s reasoning process based on firsthand, reliable information and his knowledge. Thus, the degree of certainty in よう is the highest of the four expressions compared here.

please read magichour’s reponse to this thread. :sweat_smile:


For the bakery example: you use 美味しそう when you walk by and see the cakes through the window. The cake looks/seems delicious, (based on sight/direct senses alone).

You would use 美味しいよう when you walk past a bakery and there’s a long line of people waiting outside. Seems like the cake there is delicious, (based on evidence, as a logical conclusion).


Yeah, make sure you aren’t confusing 美味しいそう (you heard it was delicious) and 美味しそう (seems delicious).


Yes I can understand the difference in this exact situation but I’m wondering how to apply it to other situations.

In this case you’ve received the information directly by seeing the cakes, and can use そう and with よう you’ve only seen a line so it is more of a speculation?

But in other cases I can’t understand the nuance.


Oh thank you, yes I meant 美味しそう in this case. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

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I asked my teacher this and he said it wasn’t the case where something was more certain or not…

Though we can only communicate in Japanese so sometimes we get crossed wires. Seems like his classes always lead to misunderstandings :sweat_smile:

So I asked some Bilingual mothers in a group i’m in and one of the answers really stood out to me.

The basic dictionary reference touches on it but doesn’t hit the nail on the head for me and i’m not exactly sure the degree of certainty comes into it.

Anyway, she said the difference is with そう it is your own feelings often based on your previous experience. よう is based on information from others and is your PERCEPTION. Thats the word that helped to explain it to me, personally.

Thought i’d just share it here in case it helps anyone else in the future :slight_smile:


This topic was a favorite of one of my Japanese professors, and she was vocal about how she felt the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar misrepresented this grammar point (for reference, she had a PhD in Japanese Linguistics and was a native).

Unfortunately, I can’t regurgitate exactly how she explained it to me because it’s been awhile, but there’re a number of factors at play when using 「そう」「よう」「らしい」and a number of other words in the same “category”.

Are you getting the information directly or indirectly? How much conviction do you have about X? How much of your judgment is based on available information vs. your own thoughts?

「そう」is when the information you’re receiving is direct only, and you have a pretty strong conviction about X. In a scenario (which I’ll link below), you’re looking for a book. Your friend suggests going to some bookstore, and when you arrive, you notice that it’s a fairly large store. You think “With a store this big, it’s bound to have my book!” (「大きな本屋ですね。ここならありそうです」).

Your friend says 「ええ、たいていの本はあるらしいですよ」, as they have no personal experience with the store, but heard information from someone else. Indirect information + no personal connection to/personal conviction about the content of the information they’re sharing.

After browsing the store for a while, you haven’t found the book, so you say 「いろいろ探しましたが、ないようですね」. You’re still using the available (direct) information you have, but your conviction in finding the book has gone down after searching and coming up empty (you believe less strongly that you’ll find it).

Sorry for the wordy explanation (which I’m not sure even helps), but this link and this link might help. The example I used is in the first link, near the bottom, and both links are in Japanese. There’s also this answer.

I also checked some grammar dictionaries I have and they say somewhat similar things, though not as wordy as the first two links.

TL;DR: It’s based on a bunch of stuff and maybe click the links instead of listening to me.


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