Using the Sou Form in Japanese: It Seems/Looks Like ~/ I Hear That ~

The 〜そう (~sou) suffix expresses two different things: 

  1. It looks/seems (like) 
  2. I hear (that). 

Let’s take a look at how it’s used.

Sou Meaning #1: It Looks/Seems (Like) ~

“It looks/seems (like)” using 〜そう expresses the speaker’s impression or opinion based on visual cues. For this usage, 〜そう can be attached to verbs and adjectives. 

Using Sou With Verbs

We attach 〜そう to verbs to express, for example, that it looks like someone will do something or that it looks like something will happen. This pattern is when you gather information that you see (visual information).

Affirmative Verbs

With a verb’s masu form, we take the stem of the verb (the 〜ます form without the “ます”) and attach 〜そう.

● 泣く (naku, to cry) → 泣き + ます (stem + masu) → 泣き + そう = 泣きそう (naki sou): It looks like someone will cry

Verb in Masu FormMasu Stem+ そう (Sou)Affirmative Verb with そう (Sou): It looks like ~.
泣きます (nakimasu)
To cry
泣き (naki)+ そう泣きそう (naki sou): Looks like someone/something will cry ~
食べます (tabemasu)
To eat
食べ (tabe)  + そう食べそう (tabe sou): Looks like someone/something will eat ~
行きます (ikimasu)
To go
行き (iki)  + そう行きそう (iki sou): Looks like someone/something will go ~
します (shimasu)
To do
し (shi)+ そうしそう (shi sou): Looks like someone/something will do ~

Examples:  

 1. 桜がもうすぐ咲きそうだ。
(sakura ga mou sugu sakisou da.)
The cherry blossoms look like they are going to bloom soon.

2. 気温が高いから雪だるまが溶けそうだ。
(kion ga takai kara yukidaruma ga tokesou da.)
The temperature is high, so it seems like the snowman is going to melt.

Sou With Negative Verbs:  Option 1

With a verb’s negative form, we have two options.

First, we can take the plain, non-past negative form, drop the final “い”, and add “そう” to it.

● 雨が降る (ame ga furu, to rain) → 降らな + い (plain non-past negative) → 降らな +そう = 降らなそう (furana sou): It looks like it will not rain

Verb in Plain Non-Past Negative FormRemove the Final い (i)+ そう (Sou)Verb in Plain Negative Form with そう (Sou): It seems / looks like ~.
泣かない (nakanai)
Do not / will not cry
泣かな+ そう泣かなそう (nakana sou): doesn’t look like he/she/they will cry ~
食べない (tabenai)
Do not / will not eat
食べな + そう食べなそう (tabena sou) doesn’t look like he/she/they will eat ~
行かない (ikanai)
Do not / will not go
行かな + そう行かなそう (ikana sou): doesn’t look like he/she/they will go ~
しない (shinai)
Do not / will not go
しな+ そうしなさう (shina sou): doesn’t look like he/she/they will do ~

Examples:

1. 動物園のライオンは寝てばかりであまり動かなそうだね。
(dōbutsuen no raion wa nete bakari de amari ugokanasou da ne.)
The lion at the zoo is always sleeping and doesn’t seem like he will move much.

2. 明子さんはいい人だから人の悪口は言わなそうだよ。
(Akiko san wa ii hito dakara hito no waruguchi wa iwanasou dayo.)
Akiko is a good person so she doesn’t seem like she’d bad-mouth other people.

Nasasou vs Nasou

Some of you may be asking, why is it “なそう” instead of “なさそう?”  This is a very good question!  

I bet many of you have already learned that using sou with ない (nai) will become なそう (nasasou).  This is absolutely correct…if you are using nai by itself or with adjectives.  However, with verbs, it also becomes なそう (as in 行かなそう).  

Here’s a quick look at the rules:

  • Plain Negative verbs + そう = なそう
  • Plain Negative adjectives + そう = なさそう

The reason for this is that the ない with adjectives are exactly that; adjectives.  And negative adjectives that use そう need a さ.   This also applies to the negative form of na-adjectives 綺麗じゃなさそう (kirei ja nasasou) 大丈夫じゃなさそう (daijо̄bu ja nasasou), etc.

Adjective Examples:

Adjective in Plain Negative FormRemove the Final い (i)+ さそう (Sa sou)Adjective in Negative Plain Form with そう (Sou): Does not seem / look ~.
寒くない (samukunai)
Not cold
寒くな+ さそう寒くなそう (samukuna sasou): Does not seem/look cold
美味しくない (oishikunai) 
Not delicious
美味しくな+ さそう美味しくなそう (oishikuna sasou): Does not seem/look delicious
綺麗じゃない (kirei ja nai)
Not pretty / clean
綺麗じゃな+ さそう綺麗じゃなそう(kirei ja na sasou): Does not seem/look pretty/clean
複雑ではない (fukuzatsu de wa nai)
Not complicated
複雑ではな+ さそう複雑ではなそう (fukuzatsu de wa na sasou): Does not seem/look complicated

However, the ない found in plain negative form verbs is NOT an adjective.  It is an inflecting dependent word (also known as an auxiliary verb).  This type of ない does not take a “さ” before そう.

Just remember that if you are using the negative form of verbs with sou, the verbs will always end with なそう.

Verb Examples:

Verb in Plain Negative FormRemove the Final い (i)+ そう (Sou)Verb in Plain Negative Form with そう (Sou): It seems / looks like ~.
落ちない (ochinai)
Do not / will not fall
落ちな+ そう落ちなそう (ochina sou): Does not seem/look like something will fall
来ない (konai)
Do not / will not come
来な+ そう来なそう(kona sou): Does not seem/look like someone/something will come
寝ない (nenai)
Do not / will not sleep
寝な+ そう寝なそう (nena sou): Does not seem/look like someone/something will sleep
飲まない (nomanai)
Do not / will not drink
飲まな+ そう飲まなそう (nomana sou): Does not seem/look like someone/something will drink

*Note: Some native Japanese speakers use the “さそう” version with verbs (飲まなさそう, 行かなさそう, etc.) and it is becoming quite common. However, this is not grammatically correct. Remember that with verbs, you don’t put a “さ” before the

Sou With Negative Verbs:  Option 2

Second, we can take the 〜そう form of the affirmative verb and add 〜(に)(も)ない.

● 来る (kuru, to come) → 来 + ます (kimasu, stem + masu) → 来 + そう (stem + sou= It looks like someone will come) → 来そう +(に)(も)ない = 来そう(に)(も)ない (ki sou (ni) (mo) nai): It does not look like someone will come

Examples: そう (に) (も) ない

Verb in Masu FormMasu Stem+ そう (に) (も) ない (Sou (ni) (mo) nai) Verb in Stem Form with そう (Sou): It seems / looks like ~.
降ります (furimasu)
To fall (rain, snow, etc.)
降り (furi)+ そう (に) (も) ない降りそうにない / 降りそうもない (furisou ni nai / furisou mo nai): Does not seem/look like something will fall (rain, snow, etc.)
食べます (tabemasu)
To eat
食べ (tabe)+ そう (に) (も) ない食べそうにない / 食べそうもない (tabesou ni nai / tabesou mo nai): Does not seem/look like someone/something will eat ~
行きます (ikimasu)
To go
行き (iki)+ そう (に) (も) ない行きそうにない / 行きそうもない (ikisou ni nai / ikisou mo nai): Does not seem/look like someone/something will go ~
します (shimasu)
To do
し (shi)+ そう (に) (も) ないしそうにない / しそうもない (shisou ni nai / shisou mo nai): Does not seem/look like someone/something will do ~

In this case, we can use just に, just も, or both に and も (来そうない、来そうない、来そうにもない) —all are correct! Having both に and も strengthens the speaker’s conjecture. 

Of course, this last form can be conjugated into the long 〜ます form as well.

● 来そうにもない (ki sou ni mo nai): plain non-past negative → 来そうにもありません (ki sou ni mo arimasen): long non-past negative

Examples:

1. 誰もいないみたいだから、このお店はまだ開きそうないね。
(dare mo inai mitai dakara, kono omise wa mada akisou ni nai ne.)
It looks like there is no one inside, so this store doesn’t seem like it’ll open soon.

2. ダイエット中なのにお菓子をやめられないので瘦せそうにもありません。
(daietto chū na noni okashi o yamerarenai node yasesou ni mo arimasen.)
I’m on a diet, but can’t stop eating snacks, so it doesn’t seem like I will lose weight.

Nuance of the Different Particles: そう (に) (も) ない

Let’s use the example, 雨が降る (ame ga furu): It will rain.  

雨が降らなさそう (ame ga fura nasasou):  Using the first “なさそう” pattern, this means “it does not look like it will rain.” You are saying this based on what you see. That is, you look up and see bright skies with no clouds in sight. Based on this visual information, it seems like it will not rain.  

In English, this would translate to, “It looks like it won’t rain.”

雨が降りそうにない (ame ga furisou ni nai):  Using the “そうにない” pattern adds a bit more strength to this sentence. Instead of “it looks like it won’t rain,” 雨が降りそうにない feels as if you have more than just visual information about the situation. Not only can you see that the skies are clear, but you just looked at your weather app on your phone, and it said it wouldn’t rain. Of course, weather apps are wrong a lot of the time, but this gives you more confidence in your statement.  

The English equivalent would be like saying, “It probably won’t rain.”

雨が降りそうもない (ame ga furisou mo nai):  Using the particle も instead of に adds more conviction to this statement. In English, this would be like saying, “There’s no way it’s gonna rain.”  

雨が降りそうにもない (ame ga furisou ni mo nai):  Using both にも, is kind of tricky. Some Japanese people say it’s a little too formal (or even weird) to say this in casual conversation, but the meaning is nearly the same as 雨が降りそうもない.  

Using Sou With Adjectives

We attach 〜そう to adjectives to express that someone or something looks to be a certain way (based on appearance and without certainty). This creates a na-adjective that ends in 〜そう.

I-Adjectives: Seems / Looks ~

For I-adjectives, we attach 〜そう to the adjective stem.

●美味しい (oishii, tasty) → 美味し + い (stem + i) → 美味し + そう = 美味しそう (oishi sou): Looks/seems delicious.

美味しそうなケーキ (a tasty-looking cake (but we’re not certain it is tasty))

I-Adjective Examples:

I-AdjectiveI-Adjective Stem Form+ そう (Sou)I-Adjective Stem with そう (Sou): It seems / looks ~.
難しい (muzukashii)
Difficult
難し (muzukashi)+ そう難しそう (muzukashi sou): Seems/looks difficult
重い (omoi)
Heavy
重 (omo) + そう重そう (omo sou): Seems/looks heavy
暑い (atsui)
Hot
暑 (atsu)  + そう暑そう (atsu sou): Seems/looks hot

I-Adjectives: Does Not Seem / Look ~

To negate i-adjectives based on appearance (and without certainty), we take the negative form and remove the い (i) at the end and add 〜さそう.

● 難しい (muzukashii, difficult) → 難しくない (negative form) → 難しくな (final い (i) removed) + さそう = 難しくなさそう (muzukashikuna sasou): It does not look difficult

Negative I-Adjective Examples:

I-Adjective in Plain Negative FormRemove the Final い (i)+ さそう (Sa sou)I-Adjective in Negative Plain Form with そう (Sou): Does not seem / look ~.
美味しくない (oishikunai)
Not delicious
美味しくな+ さそう美味しくなさそう (oishikuna sasou): Does not seem / look delicious
重くない (omokunai)
Not heavy
重くな  + さそう重くなさそう (omokuna sasou): Does not seem/look heavy
暑くない (atsuikunai)
Not hot
暑くな + さそう暑くなさそう (atsukuna sasou): Does not seem/look hot

Example Sentences:  Seems / Looks Like ~

1. 新しい職場の人たちはみんな優しそうで良かった。
(atarashii shokuba no hito tachi wa minna yasashisou de yokatta.)
I’m glad that people at my new job all seem kind.

2. 涼しそうだから木陰のベンチでお弁当を食べる?
(suzushisou dakara kokage no benchi de obentou o taberu?)
Do you want to eat lunch at the bench in the tree shade, because it looks cool there?

Example Sentences Using the Negative Form: Does Not Seem / Look ~

1. この映画はあまりおもしろくなさそう。
(kono eiga wa amari omoshiroku nasasou.)
This movie doesn’t look that interesting.

2. あまり怖くなさそうなお化け屋敷だね。
(amari kowaku nasasou na obakeyashiki dane.)
That haunted house doesn’t look that scary.

Na-Adjectives: Seems / Looks Like ~

For na-adjectives, we attach 〜そう to the adjective.

便利(な)(benri (na), convenient) → 便利 + そう = 便利そう (benri sou): Seems/looks convenient

便利 + そうな電話 (a convenient-looking phone (but we’re not certain it is convenient))

Na-Adjective Examples: Seems / Looks Like ~

NaAdjective+ そう (Sou)Na-Adjective with そう (Sou): It seems / looks ~.
大丈夫 (daijо̄bu)
Okay / All Right
+ そう大丈夫そう (daijо̄bu sou): Seems/looks okay
複雑 (fukuzatsu)
Complicated
+ そう複雑そう (fukuzatsu sou): Seems/looks complicated
綺麗 (kirei)
Pretty / Clean
+ そう綺麗そう (kirei sou): Seems/looks pretty / clean

Na-Adjectives Option 1: Does Not Seem / Look ~

There are also two ways to conjugate negative na-adjectives with sou.

The first ways is to negate the adjective using 〜ではない (plain non-past negative copula), drop the final 〜い, and add 〜さそう.

● 有名(な) → 有名ではな +い → 有名ではな +さそう = 有名ではなさそう (yūmei de wa na sasou): They do not look famous

Na-Adjective Examples: Does Not Seem / Look Like ~

NaAdjective in Plain Negative FormRemove the Final い (i)+ さそう (Sa sou)Adjective in Negative Plain Form with そう (Sou): Does not seem / look ~.

大丈夫ではない (daijо̄bu de wa nai)
Not okay / Not all right
大丈夫ではな+ さそう大丈夫ではなさそう(daijо̄bu de wa na sasou): Does not seem/look okay
複雑ではない (fukuzatsu de wa nai) 
Not delicious
複雑ではな+ さそう複雑ではなさそう(fukuzatsu de wa na sasou): Does not seem/look complicated
綺麗ではない (kirei de wa nai)
Not pretty / Not clean
綺麗ではな+ さそう綺麗ではなさそう(kirei de wa na sasou): Does not seem/look pretty/clean

Instead of ではない, you can use the more casual じゃない too.  

  • 大丈夫ではなさそう → 大丈夫じゃなさそう
  • 複雑じゃなさそう → 複雑ではなさそう
  • 綺麗じゃなさそう → 綺麗ではなさそう

Na-Adjectives Option 2: Does Not Seem / Look ~

You can also negate the na-adjective 〜そう by using 〜ではない (e.g.,有名そう + ではない). 

大丈夫そうではない (daijо̄bu sou de wa nai)大丈夫そうじゃない (daijо̄bu sou ja nai)
複雑そうではない (fukuzatsu sou de wa nai)複雑そうじゃない (fukuzatsu sou ja nai)
綺麗そうではない (kirei sou de wa nai)綺麗そうじゃない (kirei sou ja nai)

**Note: As an exception, when 〜そう is attached to the adjective いい (ii, good), it becomes よさそう (yosasou). The negative forms for いい would either be よくなさそう (yoku nasasou) よさそうではない (yosasou dewa nai).

Example Sentences Na-Adjectives:  Seems / Looks Like ~

1. となりのおばあさんは90歳なのにとても元気そうだ。
(tonari no obāsan wa 90 sai na noni totemo genkisou da.)
The grandmother next door seems very energetic even though she’s 90 years old.

2. 柔らかそうなタオルを買った。
(yawarakasou na taoru o katta.)
I bought a towel that seems soft.

Example Sentences Na-Adjectives: Does Not Seem / Look Like ~

1. 彼はあんなにお寿司を食べたのに、まだ満足ではなさそう。
(kare wa anna ni osushi o tabeta noni, mada manzoku dewa nasasou.)
He ate so much sushi but it doesn’t seem like his appetite is satisfied yet.

2. 吉田さんはあまり計算が得意そうじゃない。
(Yoshida san wa amari keisan ga tokuisou ja nai.)
Yoshida san doesn’t look like he’s good at math.

Using Sou With Nouns

Nouns do not take the 〜そう suffix to express “it looks/seems (like),” unlike in the second usage of 〜そう to mean “I hear (that),” which we’re about to discuss!

Sou Meaning #2: I Hear (That)

The sentiment of “I hear (that)” using 〜そう expresses the speaker relaying something they heard (from a friend, on the news, etc.). For this usage, 〜そう can be attached to verbs, adjectives, and nouns. 

Using It With Verbs

We attach 〜そう to verbs to express the hearsay that someone will do something or that something will happen. The 〜そう is attached to plain forms of verbs (dictionary form, plain negative forms, etc.). 

● 行く (iku, to go) → 行く + そう (dictionary form + sou) = 行くそう (iku sou): I hear someone will go ~

● 雨が降る (ame ga furu, to rain) → 降らない (plain non-past negative) →降らない+そう = 降らないそう (furanai sou): I hear it will not (rain)

Examples of Sou With Verbs:

Verb in Dictionary/Plain Form+ そう (Sou)Verb with そう (Sou): I Hear That ~
来る (kuru)
To come
+ そう来るそう (kuru sou): I hear that someone/something will come ~
辞める (yameru)
To quit / To resign
+ そう辞めるそう (yameru sou): I hear that someone will quit ~
働かない (hatarakanai)
Do not / Will not work
+ そう働かないそう (hatarakanai sou): I hear that someone/something will not work
しない
Do not / Will not do
+ そうしないそう (shinai sou):
I hear that someone/something will not do ~

Example Sentences:

1. 田中さんもパーティーに行くそうだ。
(Tanaka san mo pātī ni iku sou da.)
I hear Tanaka-san will go to the party too.

2. 天気予報によると、明日は雨が降らないそうです。
(tenki yohо̄ ni yoru to, ashita wa ame ga furanai sou desu.)
According to the weather report, it will not rain tomorrow.

Using It With Adjectives

We attach 〜そう to adjectives to express the hearsay that something is a certain way. 

I-Adjectives

For i-adjectives, we attach 〜そう to the adjective.

● 楽しい (tanoshī, fun) → 楽しい + そう = 楽しい + そう (tanoshii sou): I hear it is fun

●To express hearsay using negative i-adjectives, we can also simply add 〜そう to the end (e.g.,楽しくない + そう).

I-Adjective+ そう (Sou)I-Adjective with そう (Sou): I Hear That It’s~ / I Hear It’s Not ~
大きい (ookii)
Big
+ そう大きいそう (ookii sou): I hear that it’s big
速い (hayai)
Fast
+ そう速いそう (hayai sou): I hear that it’s fast
大きくない (ookikunai)\
Not big
+ そう大きくないそう (ookikunai sou): I hear that it’s not big
速くない (hayakunai)
Not fast
+ そう速くないそう (hayakunai sou):
I hear that someone/something will not do ~

Example Sentences: I Hear That ~

1. 警察官になる為のトレーニングはとても厳しいそうだ。
(keisatsukan ni naru tameno torēning wa totemo kibishii souda.)
I hear that the training to become a police officer is really tough.

2. ディズニーランドは楽しいそうだ。
(Dizunīrando wa tanoshii sou da.)
I hear that Disneyland is fun.

Example Sentences: I Hear That It’s Not ~

1. 田中さんは彼氏から花をもらったのに嬉しくないそうです。どうしてかな…
(Tanaka-san wa kareshi kara ohana moratta noni ureshiku nai sou desu. Doushite kana…)
I hear that Tanaka received some flowers from her boyfriend but she’s not happy.  I wonder why…

2. このスープは真っ赤だけどからくないそうです。
(kono sūpu wa makka dakedo karaku nai sou desu.)
This soup is super red, but it’s not spicy.

Na-Adjectives

For na-adjectives, we attach the copula だ plus 〜そう to the adjective.

● 元気 (genki, well, energetic) → 元気 + だ + そう = 元気だそう (genki da sou): I hear they are doing well

Na-Adjective+ だそう (Da Sou)Na-Adjective with そう (Sou): I Hear That It’s~ / I Hear It’s Not ~
綺麗 (kirei)
Pretty / Clean
+ だそう綺麗だそう (kirei da sou): I hear that it’s pretty/clean
上手 (jōzu)
Skillful
+ だそう上手だそう (jōuzu da sou): I hear that someone is skilled
だめ (dame)
No good
+ だそうだめだそう (dame da sou): I hear that it’s no good

Example Sentences:

1. 家族はみんな元気だそうです!
(kazoku wa minna genki da sou desu!)
I hear that everyone in the family is doing well!

2. 晴れた日の富士山はとても綺麗だそうだ。
(hareta hi no fujisan wa totemo kirei da sou da.)
I hear that Mt. Fuji looks beautiful on a sunny day.

3. スミスさんは日本語が上手だそうです。
(Sumisu san wa nihongo ga jōuzu da sou desu.)
I hear that Mr. Smith’s Japanese is good.

To express hearsay using negative na-adjectives, we first negate the adjective and then add 〜そう (e.g.,元気ではない + そう). 

You can also use the more casual じゃない instead of ではない. Let’s check out some examples. 

Examples of Negative Na-Adjectives with Sou

Na-Adjective Negative Form+ そう (Sou)Na-Adjective with そう (Sou): I Hear That It’s~ / I Hear It’s Not ~
綺麗ではない (kirei de wa nai)
Note pretty / Not clean
+ そう綺麗ではないそう (kirei de wa nai sou): I hear that it’s not pretty/not clean
上手ではない (jōzu de wa nai)
Not skillful
+ そう上手ではないそう (jōuzu de wa nai sou): I hear that someone is not skilled
だめじゃない (dame ja nai)
Not no good
+ そうだめじゃないそう (dame ja nai sou): I hear that it’s not no good (it’s okay)
元気じゃない (genki ja nai)
Not well / Not lively
+ そう元気じゃないそう (genki ja nai sou): I hear that someone is not well

Example Sentences:

1. 山田さんはあまりお酒が好きではないそうです。
(Yamada-san wa amari osake ga suki de wa nai sou desu.)
I hear that Yamada-san doesn’t like alcohol much.

2. あのホテルは人気があって予約を取るのが簡単じゃないそうだよ。
(Ano hoteru wa ninki ga atte yoyaku o toru no ga kantan ja nai sou da yo.)
I hear that the hotel is popular so it is hard to get reservations.

Using It With Nouns

We attach 〜そう to nouns to express the hearsay that someone or something is of a particular nature. In this case, like with na-adjectives, we attach the copula だ plus 〜そう to the noun.

● 学生 (gakusei, student) → 学生 + だ + そう = 学生だそう (gakusei da sou): I hear that they are a student

Examples of Nouns with Sou

Na-Adjective+ だそう (Da Sou)Na-Adjective with そう (Sou): I Hear That It’s~ / I Hear It’s Not ~
お休み (oyasumi)
Holiday / Day Off
+ だそうお休みだそう (oyasumi da sou): I hear that it’s their holiday/day off
仕事 (shigoto)
Job
+ だそう仕事だそう (shigoto da sou): I hear that it’s a/someone’s job
デパート (depāto)
Department Store
+ だそうデパートだそう (depāto da sou): I hear that it’s a department store

Just like the other forms, you can add ではない (de wa nai) or じゃない (ja nai) = sou to say that “I hear that it’s not ~”

お休みではないそう (oyasumi de wa nai sou)
I hear that is is not a holiday/day off.
お休みじゃないそう (oyasumi ja nai sou)
I hear that is is not a holiday/day off.
仕事ではないそう (shigoto de wa nai sou)
I hear that is it not a job.
仕事じゃないそう (shigoto ja nai sou)
I hear that is it not a job.
デパートではないそう (depāto de wa nai sou)
I hear that is is not a department store.
デパートじゃないそう (depāto ja nai sou)
I hear that is is not a department store.

Example Sentences: I Hear That ~

1. 梅原さんは学生だそうですよ。
(Umehara san wa gakusei da sou da yo.)
I hear that Umehara-san is a student.

2. あのパン屋、月曜日はお休みだそうですよ。
(ano panya, getsuyōbi wa oyasumi da sou desu yo.)
I hear that that bakery is closed on Mondays.

Example Sentence: I Hear That It’s Not ~

1. 歴史のテストは明日じゃないそうだよ。
(rekishi no tesuto wa ashita ja nai sou da yo.)
I hear that the history exam is no tomorrow.

Conclusion

Both uses of the 〜そう suffix are great to have in your Japanese toolkit! Try using it to strike up a conversation, whether you’re talking about a tasty-looking dessert or sharing something you heard through the news!

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