532 - そうだ (appears that)

Brace yourself, Nihongo Nerd.

With this lesson, we begin our perilous descent into the land of そう.

These two little kana can cause quite a few headaches for the unwary student.

It all starts with そうですね. You look up a definition and it says something like, "That's so, isn't it?" You even come across some simple sentences where this seems like a pretty good translation:


A:
今日は暑いですね。
きょう は あつい です ね。
It’s hot today, isn’t it?
Literally: “today + は + hot + です + ね.”


B:
そうですね
そう です ね。
Yeah, it is.
Literally: “that’s right”


OK. Cool. No problems there. But then fast forward a few months. You're in Tokyo, chilling with your Japanese friend who lives in Russia. You ask him...

A:
ロシアのどんなところが好きですか?
ロシア の どんな ところ が すき です か?
What do you like about Russia?
Literally: “Russia + の + what kind of + place / point + が + liked + ですか?”


He comes back with...


B:
そうですね...食べ物がおいしいところと、自然が綺麗なところですかねぇ。
そうですね...たべもの が おいしい ところ と、 しぜん が きれいな ところ ですかねぇ。
What do I like? Well... I guess just that the food is good, and the nature is beautiful.
Literally: “right… + food + が + tasty / delicious + point / place + と, + nature + が + pretty + point / place + I guess (=ですかねぇ).”


This そうですね doesn't really mean anything. It's just a way to buy time while trying to think of an answer to a question. It most certainly doesn't mean, "That's so, isn't it?"

And the next day, your penny-pinching coworker says:


外食ってお金の無駄だよね。そう思わない?
がいしょく って おかね の むだ だ よね。 そう おもわない?
Eating out is a waste of money. Don’t you think (so)?
Literally: “eating out + って + money + の + waste / uselessness + だ + よね. + that way + don’t think?”


Here そう means something like "that [this] way."

Experiences like this pile up, and eventually you just give up on trying to figure out English equivalents for そう. Ain't nobody got time fo' dat! Especially considering that そう is not always a "word" per se. Sometimes it serves more of a grammatical function.

Like in this lesson!


JLPT N4: そうだ (appears that)

Occasionally we attach そう to the end of (i- and na-) adjectives. By doing so, we get a meaning close to "it appears that" or "it looks like."

An example:


わあ、おいしそう
わあ、 おいしそう!
Wow, it looks delicious!
Literally: “wow, + looks delicious / looks tasty”


Here we took the i-adjective おいしい, "tasty; delicious," then we dropped the final い and replaced it with そう, giving us おいしそう, "looks tasty; looks delicious."

Make sense?

Well, let's make it more complicated....


💣 Demolition 💣

Err, I mean...


👷 Construction 👷


Like I said earlier, for i-adjectives, we drop and add そう.

For na-adjectives, we just add そう to the end of the word.


たかい // expensive
そうたかそう // looks expensive


元気げんき // lively; energetic; [doing] well
元気そうげんきそう // looks lively; looks energetic; looks like [one is] [doing] well


Simple dimples, yeah?

Since you love examples...



昨日、久しぶりに母に会いました。元気そうで、よかったです。
きのう、 ひさしぶり に はは に あいました。 げんき そうで、 よかった です。
I saw my mother yesterday for the first time in a long time. I was glad to see that she seems to be doing well.
Literally: “yesterday, + after a long while + に + mother + に + met / saw. + seems to be doing well + で, + was good + です.”



彩乃さんは、いつもそうな服を着ている。
あやの さん は、 いつも たかそうな ふく を きている。
Ayano-san is always wearing expensive-looking clothes.
Literally: “Ayano-san + は, + always + expensive-looking + clothes + を + is wearing.”


See how 高そう is followed by な, then a noun, giving us 高そうな服 (たかそうなふく // expensive-looking clothes)?

We put な between 高そう and 服 because words ending in this そう act as na-adjectives. For the same reason, the previous example had 元気そうで (げんきそうで).

When the そう adjective is acting as an adverb, we write に after it (just like we do with any na-adjective that is being used as an adverb). For example:


ケンタは嬉しそうに笑った。
ケンタ は うれしそう に わらった。
Kenta smiled happily.
Literally: "Kenta + は + happy-looking + に + smiled."


🐤 Weird Stuff 🐤

There are irregular forms of this, I'm afraid to admit.

Irregular Form #1: いい (good) becomes よさそう (looks good).

Like this:


彼女は頭がそうだ。
かのじょ は あたま が よさそうだ。
She looks smart.
Literally: “she + は + head + が + looks good + だ.”


This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise because it would sound whack if we changed いい to いそう.

So yeah, memorize it!


Irregular Form #2: The negative forms of adjectives end in なさそう and not なそう.

〇 ~ない → ~なさそう
✕ ~ない → なそう

For example, the negative form of いい (good) is よくない (not good).

This does NOT become よくなそう. Instead, it becomes よくなさそう (doesn't look good).

Note the さ that is being inserted: よくそう.

A couple more examples:


たかい // expensive
そうたかそう // looks expensive

高くないたかい // not expensive
高くなさそうたかくなさそう // doesn't look expensive


元気げんき // lively; energetic; [doing] well
元気そうげんきそう // looks lively; looks energetic; looks like [one is] [doing] well

元気じゃないげんき // not lively; not energetic; not [doing] well
元気じゃなさそうげんきじゃなさそう // doesn't look lively; doesn't lookenergetic; doesn't look like [one is] [doing] well


To make things really complicated, note that the ~たい verb form acts as an i-adjective, and we can use it with the ~そう ending.


行く(いく // to go

行きたいいきたい // want to go

行きたそういきたそう // looks like [one] wants to go

行きたくないいきたくない // doesn't want to go

行きたくなさそういきたくなさそう // doesn't look like [one] wants to go


Here it is in a sentence:


夫は中学校の同窓会に行きたくなさそうです。
おっと は ちゅうがっこう の どうそうかい に いきたくなさそうです。
My husband doesn’t seem to want to go to his middle-school class reunion.
Literally: “husband + は + middle school + の + class reunion + に + does not seem to want to go + です.”


Since this そう ending is used to say how something "looks," we cannot use it with adjectives that describe the appearance of things.

For example, let's say you're looking at a giant hamburger:

You could say:

大きい。
おおきい。
It’s big.
Literally: “big.”


But you could NOT say:

大きそう
おおきそう。
It looks big.
Literally: “looks big.”


You may be thinking, but this is just a picture of a hamburger. It might not actually be big in real life. It just looks big in this picture. Well, in that case you would say...

大きく見える
おおきく みえる。
It looks big.
Literally: “big + appears.”


A topic for another day.

Long story short, don't use そう meaning "looks X" when "X" is something that can be understand at a glance.

Only evil grammar heretics say sentences like this:


× そのスカートはおしゃれそうですね。
× その スカート は おしゃれ そうです ね。
× That skirt looks fancy [stylish].
× Literally: “that + skirt + は + looks fancy / looks stylish + です + ね.”



The JLPT grammar books will also tell you that the "looks X" そう cannot come before nouns, condemning sentences like the following (because 怠けもの [なまけもの // lazy person] is a noun):


× 彼は怠け者そうです。
× かれ は なまけもの そうです。
× He looks like he’s lazy.
× Literally: “he + は + lazy person + そう + です.”


BUT!

Japanese people do put this そう after nouns sometimes. Specifically, you might hear people say something like:


△ いいそうだね。
△ いい ひと そう だ ね。
△ He [She] seems like a good person.
△ Literally: “good + person + そう + だ + ね.”


So take that, JLPT.


You're done!

This lesson is extremely important for increasing fluency, so you might want to read it a few times. It's what all the good students are doing.




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