Help me with this grammar please!


What kind of help were you after in particular? Subtleties of usage?

The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar is immensely helpful for such questions. :slightly_smiling_face:

I feel this. My goal for this weekend is to hash out the differences between these in my brain once and for all.

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Well, I know that にみえる and みたい mean “looks like”, ようだ and らしい mean something like “seems like”, and そうだ and と聞いた mean “I heard that…”, but I don’t really know the subtleties and wanted to gain an intuitive understanding of them.

I have that at home. I guess I’m just being a bit lazy and was hoping someone had a simple explanation*. Besides, I’m at work and pretending to be paying attention in a meeting. I don’t think I should be pulling out thick grammar references.

  • One of my favorite Japanese quick and easy grammar explanations was when someone explained three sentence ending particles by saying that よ was used when the speaker had information the listener did not have, ね was used when the speaker and the listener had the same information, and か was used when the listener had information the speaker did not have. Not perfect, but I thought this was a helpful way of thinking about it.
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I don’t think there’s any particular difference between そうだ and と聞いた, though my gut is saying that since the first one is easier to say, it’d probably be used more casually. My gut isn’t always right, mind. Keep in mind also that there’s two そうだs, which are formed differently. おいしいそう = I heard it’s delicious, while おいしそう = that looks delicious.

みたい is the colloquial form of ようだ, according to the dictionary.

Cheat sheet is basically:
S-inf + そうだ = direct report of something you’ve heard or read
Stem + そうだ = conclusion drawn from something you’ve seen
らしい = conclusion drawn from something you’ve heard or read
ようだ/みたい = conclusion drawn from something you’ve seen and your own logical reasoning

I confess I’ve never come across にみえる, and it’s not in the grammar dictionary. I might infer that it means “I can see that…”, though.

そうです is polite, you often hear it when quoting something on the news.
聞いた is also more like “I heard that…” while そうだ is more of quoting something you have heard.

I’ve heard that the price of apples has started to come down. (I don’t know if this is true, but I read it on line).

I was told that the price of apples has started to come down. (this is a quote someone told me)

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An explanation for よう and そう that I read today:

Like そう, よう can be used to report indirect knowledge. However, unlike そう, which strongly implies that the knowledge was acquired verbally (e.g., “so-and-so said,” “people say,” etc), よう merely means that something “seems” or “appears” to be a certain way, based on any kind of evidence the speaker cares about.

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にみえる feels more concrete to me.

There’s an attraction at Tokyo Disneyland (and other Disney parks presumably) called Stitch Encounter, where the character on the screen talks to the crowd. It’s always a relatively short wait to get in and it’s warm inside, so I went a few times last time I was there in December. Stitch always asks a male audience member if they changed their hairstyle recently, and then tells him 5歳にみえる (you look like you’re 5 years old). This is used as a transition to talk to the kids in the room when he says something like 5歳にみえる人がいっぱいいる (there are lots of people who look like 5-year-olds!).

I don’t know if that helps or not, or if anyone wants to criticize the fact that I know the script for this attraction now, heh.


Wow you memorized the script for an amusement park attraction. What a loser!



Hope you don’t mind the big text. These are my notes on そうだ、らしい、そう、ようだ and みたいだ. There might be some mistakes, as I haven’t reviewed them.

(Expressing the things you’ve heard)

For now, we’ll learn how to express judgment on things we’ve exclusively heard. Understand this: both 「そうだ」「らしい」can only be used when you’re talking about something that you heard (hearing group). Let’s quickly check the conjugation first.

Conjugation (そうだ):

  • Noun + だそうだ
  • Na-adjective + だそうだ
  • Verb + そうだ
  • I-adjective + そうだ

Conjugation (らしい):
It conjugates just like a normal I-adjective.
Can be attached directly.

  • Noun + らしい
  • Verb + らしい
  • Na-adjective + らしい
  • I-adjective + らしい

Now, let’s take a look at this sentence:

I heard that John studies Japanese every day.

In this example, you’ve heard it indirectly from someone that supposedly knows the truth. The level of certainty that this is true is relatively high then.

I heard that John studies Japanese every day.

In this case, what you’ve heard is more of a rumor (or sources are unclear). No one really knows for sure if John actually studies every day. The “rumor” is based on other evidence like he being always busy or that his Japanese is improving very fast.


I heard tomorrow is going to rain. (maybe you heard the forecast)

I heard that person is very smart. (maybe you know someone that knows that person)

I heard that the Kyoto’s public gardens are lovely. (maybe your Japanese friend that lives there told you).

John seems like a stubborn person. (based on what you’ve heard about him)

It seems to be very difficult for Japanese to learn English. (based on Japanese not being good at English, for example).

「らしい」also has a bonus function as it allows you to express that something has characteristics of something else. For example, “He’s very strong-like.” Means “He has the appearance of being strong.”


女らしい = woman-like (feminine)

That man isn’t adult-like.

That idea is so John-like, right! (So typical of John).

これから僕が僕らしく行く!(らしい used as and adverb)
From now on, I’ll be myself! (I’ll act myself-like)

Also, you can’t use 「だそう」with the person that you heard the message from. In that case, you would use something like 「と言う」.

John, I heard from you that Asako is going to Disneyland tomorrow right! (WRONG!)

John, you said yesterday that Asako is going to Disneyland right!

Predicting future situations through observation

Remember how I insisted that 「そうだ」and「らしい」were in the hearing group (I heard…”)? Well, we’ll now start with 「そう」, which is in the visual group. 「そう」allows you to predict a future situation through the observation of a current event. The easiest example to understand this would be “I think it’s going to rain”, where you’re basing your opinion/future prediction by looking at the sky and seeing all those clouds. Notice that the event “raining” is not yet occurring.

Different conjugation from 「そうだ」

  • Verb stem + そう
  • I adjective (-い) + そう
  • Na adjective + そう
  • Negative form: (な-い) さ + そう OR じゃない/ありません

Examples with adjectives:
When you’re predicting something by adjectivising it, you’re making assumptions based on the information that you know.

That cake looks tasty! (based of its appearance)

Being a foreigner in Japan who never studied Japanese at all seems hard! (You’re might be basing this on seeing how difficult Japanese is, for example).

Today’s homework seems difficult! (Maybe because today’s class was also difficult).

During the test, I seemed like falling asleep! (I almost fell asleep).

Take into consideration that「いい」when conjugated with 「そう」is an irregular.

「いい」=> 「良い」
「良い」 + 「そう」=> 「良さそう」<= correct conjugation.

This house looks good!

Also, careful with using 「かわいそう」, since this is an exception and it translates to “poor thing”.

She looks cute! You poor thing!

Instead, you could use 「かわいいらしい」or simply「かわいい」:

She’s apparently cute!

She’s cute!

Examples with verbs:
When you’re predicting an action, you’re basing it on things that you’re seeing.

Seems like it’s going to rain.

It seems that John will pass next week’s test.

This year, it seems that Porto will win the championship!

This might seem obvious, but you can’t express your will with this grammar structure, because if you’re expressing your wishes/desires, you’re not predicting anything.

I seem to go the library. WRONG!

Negative conjugation using adjectives or verbs:

There’s two ways to do it: you either conjugative the adjective/verb in the negative form and add the noun converter さ (Ex:「高くなさそう」), or you simply conjugate 「そう」to 「そうじゃない」or「そうありません」:

From here, that building doesn’t look tall!

From here, that building doesn’t look like a tall building.

The nuance is somehow similar: in (1.1), you indicate that the building doesn’t look tall while in (1.2), you’re negating the idea that the building looks tall.

It doesn’t look cold outside of the house.

It doesn’t look like it is cold outside of the house.

Again, similar nuance. In (2.1), you directly affirm that it doesn’t look cold outside of the house while on (2.2), you’re negating the idea that it seems cold.


Now, ようだ and みたいだ:

Express judgments based on current situations

This couple 「ようだ」and「みたいだ」also belong to the visual group, like 「そう」. The difference now is that you’re describing a current state/situation. You’re not predicting any future event like 「そう」, but interpreting a current situation that’s occurring. Let’s go into a more detailed explanation after the conjugations.

Conjugation - 「ようだ」:
It conjugates as a noun.

  • Nouns + の + ようだ/です
  • Verbs + ようだ/です
  • Na adjective + な + ようだ/です
  • I adjective + ようだ/です

Conjugation - 「みたいだ」:
It conjugates as a noun.
Can be attached directly.

  • Noun + みたいだ/です
  • Verb + みたいだ/です
  • Na adjective + みたいだ/です
  • I adjective + みたいだ/です

Obs: both 「ようだ」and「みたいだ」have the same grammatical function. However, 「ようだ」is a formal word more frequently seen in writing while 「みたいだ」is used more during casual speech.

Difference between 「そう」and 「ようだ」/「みたいだ」:

It seems that he will exercise. (Future prediction: he might be putting on fitness clothes).

It seems that he exercised. (Interpretation of an event: he seems tired or he’s sweaty).

It seems that coffee shop will close. (Future prediction: maybe that coffee shop never has costumers).

It seems that coffee shop is going to close. (Interpretation of an event: maybe the employees have already started to clean the establishment).

As you can see, there’ll see situations where 「そう」as a prediction, and both 「みたい」and「ようだ」as an interpretation of a current event, will be grammatically correct. The nuance however, is there.

Extra examples:

He seems to be an athlete! (Maybe because he just got out from a competition or because he’s well-built).

It seems like it’s going to rain. (Maybe because you felt some drops falling already).

That trip seems lovely. (Maybe because of how your friends are describing their trip).

This winter seems cold. (Maybe because you’re seeing snow falling from the sky).

To conjugate the negative form, you conjugate what comes before 「みたい」or「ようだ」:

It seems that no one is in here.

That person doesn’t look like a famous person.

EXTRA! I think it is also possible to negate みたい and ようだ with a じゃない/ありません, but I have yet to check/write that part. I think it will work like そう but I’m too tired to be sure of that right now.


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