そう (sou) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Seems

Author Sandro Maglione for article 'そう (sou) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Seems'

Sandro Maglione

6 min reading time

そう (sou) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Seems

The auxiliary verb そう (sou) means seems, looks like, appears.

そう is used to say that something looks or seems a certain way. そう is also used in many expressions to indicate something that we heard, where its meaning remains seems, appears:

In this post we learn more about the meaning of そう, how it is formed, and when そう is used through real example sentences.

How そう is formed

そう as an auxiliary verb applies to the conjunctive form (れん)(よう)(けい) of the verb or adjective to which it is applied. This conjugation is then followed by the copula だ to express seems to be...:


そう cannot be used with nouns.

Let's see some examples of conjugation step by step:

  • Verb: (はし)to run becomes (はし)りそうだ
  • Adjective in い: (むずか)しい difficult becomes (むずか)しそうだ
  • Adjective in な: (かん)(たん) easy becomes (かん)(たん)そうだ


Today's homework seems easy.

そう in the negative with ない

To form negative verbs and adjectives with そう the conjugation is more complex.

For adjectives ending in い and な, you need to conjugate the adjective in the negative with ない and then convert ない into a noun using the suffix さ, so as to form the expression なさそう.

It is also possible to use じゃない or ではない to form the negative:


For verbs, you have to pay attention to the meaning you want to convey with そう. In fact, there are two possible conjugations.

Negative verb + そう

The first possible form consists in conjugating the verb in the negative with ない (which is used as an auxiliary verb, not as an adjective), and then conjugating ない with そう:


Let's see an example with the verb to return (かえ)る:



Looks like he won't come home.

Adjective ない becomes a noun + そう

Another possible conjugation consists in transforming the adjective ない applied to the verb into a noun using the suffix さ.


Let's see an example with the same verb seen previously to return (かえ)る:



It looks like it is the fact that it won't rain.

In the example the translation is literal:

  • ()らなさ: the verb ()to fall is conjugated to the negative not to fall and then converted into a noun with さ the fact of not falling
  • そうだ then adds the meaning of it looks like it is...

How and when to use そう

そう expresses a subjective assumption on the part of the speaker, meaning that something seems to be a certain way based on what it appears to be, often visually or intuitively.

そう cannot be used when a fact is definitely true or proven for certain.


It's a book that seems difficult.

We note from the example that seems is based on a visual guess of the book (ほん).

The use of そう makes us understand that what has been said is not based on any certain or verified information, but more on what one thinks subjectively and intuitively.


The building seems quiet.

Comment on a cooking video:

Looks delicious! Very good. It makes me want to eat it.
()べたくなります suffix たい expressing the verb want; たくなる: make somebody want to


Looks delicious! Very good. It makes me want to eat it.

The noun 上手 means skill, ability and is used as an Adjective in な (じょう)()な and Adjective in い 上手(うま) い with the meaning of skillful, good at.

Examples of そう


Is that so?


It looks like you can still use it.


That is it, right?