Japanese Grammar

How to Express Judgments: そうだ, ようだ, みたいだ, and らしい

it looks: そうだ

Last time, you learned how to express various levels of certainty, e.g. スマートフォンは便べん かもしれない・なはずだ・にちがいない (Smartphones may / should / must be useful). There are still other types of sentence patterns to express your judgement, e.g. “Smartphones look useful,” and “I heard that smartphones are useful.” This is what you will learn in this lesson.

Explanation for the Usages of そうだ, ようだ, みたいだ, and らしい

Table of Contents
そうだ: Judgments Based on Appearances
ようだ and みたいだ: Judgments Based on Situations
そうだ: Judgments Based on Other People’s Information (Hearsay)
らしい: Ambiguous Expressions

We will pick up the four phrases: そうだ, ようだ, みたいだ, and らしい. Some functions can overlap, which sometimes confuses learners. Therefore, we will try to analyze the functions in detail.

そうだ: Judgments Based on Appearances

iPhoneは とても 便べん そう(だ / です)
Topic / Subject Adverb Predicate
iPhones look useful.
*Said when you see an iPhone’s interface.

The first function of そうだ is to express that you are guessing attributes based on appearances. This is generally used with adjectives. You can directly connect na-adjectives with そうだ while you need to replace the last い of i-adjectives with そうだ.

なかさんはげんそう(だった / でした)。
Tanaka-san looked lively.
そのケーキは美味おいしそう(だ / です)。
That cake looks delicious.

You can use adjectives to modify nouns or verbs by using another conjugation. You replace the last だ of そうだ with な for nouns and に for verbs.

美味おいそうケーキ(だ / です)ね。
[It’s] cake which looks delicious, isn’t it?
なかさんは美味おいそうケーキをべて(いる / います)。
Tanaka-san is eating cake with a happy face (*because of the taste).

If you connect verbs with そうだ, you express indication of changes or actions. The verb conjugation is to attach そうだ to the polite form instead of ます. Be careful; you cannot express your will by using this function.

もうすぐあめりそう(だ / です)。
[It] will rain soon.
信号しんごうあかりそう(だ / です)。
The traffic signal is about to turn red.
わたし学校がっこうきそう(だ / です)。
=> Wrong!

When you make negative sentences, the conjugations become complicated. There are two negative forms of adjectives, though the meanings are almost the same. The first is to inflect adjectives: to replace the last い of negative adjectives with さ and attach そうだ. The second is to inflect そうだ itself: to replace the last だ with じゃない (or ではない in formal) .

そのケーキは美味おいしくなさそう / です)。
That cake doesn’t look delicious.
そのケーキは美味おいしそうじゃない / ありません)。
That cake doesn’t look delicious.

There is just one negative form of verbs, which is to replace the last だ with にもない. That may sound simple, but you need to pay attention to irregular omissions.

あめりそうにもない / ありません)。
There is no indication that [it] will rain.
あめりそうない / ありません)。
=> に is omitted.
あめりそうない / ありません)。
=> も is omitted.

ようだ and みたいだ: Judgments Based on Situations

iPhoneは とても 便べん みたい(だ / です)
Topic / Subject Adverb Predicate
It seems that iPhones are useful.
*Said when you read some articles explaining how good iPhones are.

The function of both ようだ and みたいだ is to express judgments based on situations. The difference between the two words is that ようだ is a formal word and preferred in writing, while みたいだ is a casual word and preferred in speech. When you use みたいだ, you can directly connect any element with it.

かあさんはおこっているみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that [my] mother is angry.
としなつあつみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that this summer is hot.
 文法ぶんぽう大切たいせつみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that grammar is important.
あのひと警察けいさつみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that that person over there is a policeman.

When you use ようだ, the conjugation is not simple as the one for みたいだ. You have to add な with na-adjectives and の with nouns.

かあさんはおこっているよう(だ / です)。
としなつあつよう(だ / です)。
文法ぶんぽう大切たいせつよう(だ / です)。
あのひと警察けいさつよう(だ / です)。

When it comes to negative sentences, the conjugation is much simpler than そうだ. You can just attach ようだ and みたいだ to the negative form.

かあさんはおこっていないみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that [my] mother is not angry.
としなつあつくないみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that this summer is not hot.
文法ぶんぽう大切たいせつじゃないよう(だ / です)。
It seems that grammar is not important.
あのひと警察けいさつじゃないよう(だ / です)。
It seems that that person over there is not a police.

ようだ and みたいだ  have another special function. They can express similarity and metaphor. The adverb まるで often appears like a set phrase, which makes sentences slightly more formal.

スポーツ選手せんしゅみたい(だ / です)。
[You] are like an athlete.
このまんはまるできょうしょよう(だ / です)。
This manga is like a textbook.

This function is often used to modify nouns, adjectives, and verbs. When you do so, you need to attach な to nouns and に to adjectives and verbs.

モデルみたい女性じょせい(だ / です)。
[She] is a woman like a model.
ボブはさかなみたいおよぐ / およぎます)。
Bob swims like a fish.
今日きょうはまるでふゆのようさむい(です)。
Today is cold as if it is [a] winter [day].
んだようて(いた / いました)。
[You] were sleeping as if [you] had died.

そうだ: Judgments Based on Other People’s Information (Hearsay)

iPhoneは とても 便べん だそう(だ / です)
Topic / Subject Adverb Predicate
[I heard] iPhones are very useful.

The second function of そうだ is to express hearsay, i.e. information you heard or read. The conjugation is different from the first function. Like the quotation marker と, そうだ should be placed after complete sentences, i.e. だ should be included. Also, そうだ needs to connect with the plain form, i.e. 便利ですそうだ is wrong. 

 明日あした学校がっこうやすそう(だ / です)。
[I heard] the school will be closed tomorrow.
なかさんはたい調ちょうわるそう(だ / です)。
[I heard] Tanaka-san is under the weather.
VISAビザつづきは簡単かんたんそう(だ / です)。
[I read] the procedure for VISA is simple.
すずさんがテストにかったそう(だ / です)。
[I heard] Suzuki-san has passed the exam.

You can use the following phrases with this function: …によると, …の話では, and …が言うには, which all mean “according to…” Because of the frequency, you should memorize them together. For reference, によると sounds formal the most.

ケンタうには、 明日あした学校がっこうやすみだそう(だ / です)。
According to Kenta…
先生はなしではなかさんはたい調ちょうわるいそう(だ / です)。
According to the teacher…
ホームページによるとVISAビザつづきは簡単かんたんだそう(だ / です)。
According to the website…

Note: you cannot use そうだ to those who gave information to you. That is to say, if you heard from Kenta that the school will be closed tomorrow and try to confirm it with him, you need to utilize other expressions.

ケンタ、 明日あした学校がっこうやすみだそう(だ / です)よね。
=> Wrong!
ケンタ、 明日あした学校がっこうやすみだとったよね。
Kenta, [you] said the school will be closed tomorrow, right?

らしい: Ambiguous Expressions

らしい can express both judgments based on situations and other people’s information (hearsay). In some situations, this is not a proper expression. Please check the following comparison. Note: You don’t have to conjugate らしい. You can just directly connect it with either usage.

Judgments based on Situations

iPhoneはとても便べん みたい(だ / です)。
It seems that iPhones are useful.
iPhoneはとても便べん らしい(です)。
=> Same as the above
iPhoneがしょうしているみたい(だ / です)。
It seems that [your] iPhone breaks down.
iPhoneがしょうしているらしい(です)。
=> Unnatural.

Since らしい can express hearsay, your speech may look insecure or other people’s opinions even if you try to use it as judgments based on situations. Therefore, when you need to be responsible, e.g. you point out that someone’s cellphone has some problems, you should not use らしい.

Judgments based on Other People’s Information (Hearsay)

ニュースによるとほんしんがあったそう(だ / です)。
うわさによるとほんしんがあったらしい(です)。

With the examples above, the meanings are “An earthquake happened in Japan,” but the sources are different. When you heard it from “ニュース: news,” you use そうだ while when you heard it from “噂: rumors,” you use らしい. That is to say, らしい is more frequently used when sources are unclear. In practice, especially for casual situations, people often prefer らしい because そうだ sounds a little formal.

iPhoneがにんそう(だ / です)。
[I heard] iPhones are popular.
iPhoneがにんらしい(です)。
=> Same as the above

Note: please pay attention to the conjugations. You need to place そうだ after complete sentences, i.e. including だ while you just directly attach らしい.

Summary

  1. そうだ expresses judgments based on appearances
  2. ようだ and みたいだ express judgments based on situations
  3. ようだ and みたいだ also express similarity and metaphor.
  4. そうだ also expresses judgments based on other people’s information (hearsay)
  5. らしい is an ambiguous expression between judgments based on situation and other people’s information.

A lot of learners are confused by the similar usages. However, when you list each function like the summary, we think that the difference is clear. You are probably not able to use them properly right now. That’s alright. Just review this article when necessary. By repeatedly using them, your expressions will improve more and more. Next, you will learn how to express desires like, “I want to improve my Japanese.”

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