Accurately using ~sou (そう) is one area of Japanese grammar that can cause a lot of problems for students.

In this guest post by Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen, author of this Japanese grammar book, we’ll look at how to differentiate between the two.

As always, I’ll also be commenting here and there throughout the post.

– Niko


Japanese Grammar: ~ sou VS ~ sou da

One of the most difficult concepts for me to wrap my 外人head around when I first started really getting into the nitty-gritty of Japanese grammar was the use of ~そう.

Only after hours of study and countless mistakes in speaking did I finally conquer this Mt. Everest (or Mt. Fuji, if you prefer) of a grammar structure.

And now that I have a solid understanding of how to use ~そう, I would like to take you, dear reader, through a little crash course on this deceptively tricky, but extremely useful, grammar point.

よろしくお願いします!

Describing how something looks/sounds/seems with ~sou

One of the more common uses of ~そう that you will encounter is when it is attached to the ます-stem of a verb (theます-stem being every part of the word beforeます; like「行き」in 行きますor 「泣き」in 泣きます, for example).

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[Verb Stem] + sou = “Looks like it’s about to [verb].”

Verb: 始まる (hajimaru)
-Masu Form: 始まります (hajimarimasu)
-Masu Stem: 始まり‐ (hajimari-)

始まり‐ (hajimari-)

‐そう (-sou)

始まりそう (hajimarisou)
“(looks like it’s) about to start”

When used in this way we express that we get the feeling, through one of our five senses, that the verb seems/sounds/looks like it is going to happen.

A few example sentences will help make this idea clear:

1.

そろそろ始まりそうですね。
Sorosoro hajimarisou desu ne.
It looks like it’s about to start.

2.

あの赤ちゃんは泣きそうです。
Ano akachan wa nakisou desu.
That baby looks like it is going to cry.

3.

雨が降りそう。
Ame ga furisou.
Looks like it’s about to rain.

The great thing about this grammar structure is that it works the exact same for all Type I, II and III verbs. So, there is no need to remember any specific conjugation for the type of verb you are using; doesn’t get much easier than that!

Using ~そう with i-adjectives

Of course, we aren’t limited to only using ~そう with verbs. We can also express the same idea with adjectives.

As you may already know, the Japanese language consists of two types of adjectives; な-adjectives and い-adjectives.

We’ll start by looking at our い-adjectives.

Fortunately, using ~そう with い-adjectives is quite similar to what we were doing before with our verbs, so this should be a piece of cake.

Before we append ~そう, all we have to do is simply isolate the stem of our adjective by dropping the final「い」character.

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[i-adjetive minus い (i)] + sou = “Looks/Seems [i-adjective].”

i-adjective: 眠い (nemui)
minus い: 眠 (nemu-)

眠‐ (nemu)

‐そう (-sou)

眠そう (nemusou)
“looks/seems sleepy/tired”

Let’s look at some example sentences:

1.

この指輪は高そうです。
Kono yubiwa wa takasou desu.
This ring looks expensive.

2.

そのスーツケース重そう。
Kare no suutukeesu wa omosou.
That suitcase looks heavy.

3.

そのゲームは難しそう。
Sono geemu ha muzukashisou.
That game seems difficult.

4.

彼女は眠そうですね。
Kanojo wa nemousou desu ne.
She looks tired, doesn’t she.

Using ~そう with na-adjectives

Now let’s see how we use ~そう with our な-adjectives.

Using ~そう with な-adjectives to express how something looks/sounds/seems is even easier than with theirい-adjective counterparts. All we have to do is simply append ~そう to the な-adjective as is.

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[na-adjetive] + sou = “Looks/Seems [na-adjective].”

na-adjective: 便利 (benri)

便利 (benri)

‐そう (-sou)

便利そう (benrisou)
“looks/seems convenient”

Let’s look at a few example sentences.

1.

その町は和やかそうです。
Sono machi ha nagoyakasou desu.
That town seems calm/quiet/peaceful.

2.

あなたの携帯は便利そうですね。
Anata no keitai ha benrisou desu ne.
Your cell phone seems really useful/convenient, doesn’t it.

3.

今日いつもより元気そうだね。
Kyou itsumo yori genki sou da ne.
You seem to be in an extra good mood today.

And that’s it! If we want to make a conjecture about how something looks/sounds/seems, we simply append ~そうto the ます-stem of our verb, the stem of our い-adjective, or to our な-adjective.

By this point, you might be wondering why I said at the beginning of this article that this was one of the more difficult concepts for me to wrap my head around. The reason is because we can also use ~そうto report hearsay in much the same way.

Reporting Hearsay with ~sou

nakisou going to cry

 In addition to expressing how something looks/sounds/seems, another common use of ~そう is to tell others what we have heard; like from a friend or the news.

Just like before, we’ll start by looking at our verbs.

Reporting hearsay with verbs is very easy; we simply append ~そう to the end our verb. We don’t have to isolate any stems, or drop any characters.

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[Verb] + sou = “[Someone] said [verb].” / “I heard [verb].”

Verb: 始まる (hajimaru)

始まる‐ (hajimaru)

‐そう (-sou)

始まるそう (hajimaru sou)
“They said it’s going to start” / “I heard it’s going to start”

Let’s look at a few example sentences:

1.

彼女もパーティーに行くそうです。
Kanojo mo paatii ni ikusou desu.
They that she is also going to the party.

2.

彼が日本に引っ越すそうです。
Kare ga nihon ni hikkosusou desu.
They say that he is moving to Japan.

3.

雨が降るそうです。
Ame ga furusou desu.
They say it is going to rain.

The same idea applies to our い-adjectives. If we want to report hearsay using an い-adjective, we simply apply ~そうto the adjective, as is.

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[i-adjetive] + sou = “[Someone] said [i-adjective].” “I heard (it’s) [i-adjective].”

i-adjective: 眠い (nemui)

眠い (nemui)

‐そう (-sou)

眠いそう (nemui sou)
“[She] said that [she’s] tired/sleepy.”

1.

この指輪は高いそうです。
Kono yubiwa wa takai sou desu.
I heard that this ring is expensive.

2.

彼のスーツケースは重いそうです。
Kare no suutukeesu wa omoi sou desu.
I heard that his suitcase is heavy.

3.

そのゲームは難しいそうです。
Sono geemu wa muzukashii sou desu.
They say that this game is difficult.

な-adjectives work a little differently, however. We cannot simply append そう by itself, like we did with our verbs and い-adjectives. We must place だ between the adjective and そう.

To simplify this quite a bit, we can just think of it this way:

[na-adjetive] + da + sou = “They said (it’s) [na-adjective].” / “I heard (it’s) [na-adjective].”

na-adjective: 便利 (benri)

便利 (benri)

だ (da)

‐そう (-sou)

便利だそう (benri da sou)
“[He] said [it’s] convenient.” / “I heard [it’s] convenient.”

1.

その町は静かだそうです。
Sono machi wa shizuka da sou desu.
They say that this town is quiet/calm.

2.

彼の携帯は便利だそうです。
Kare no keitai wa benri da sou desu.
I heard that your cell phone was convenient/useful.

3.

これは大事だそうです。
Kore wa daiji da sou desu.
They say that this is important.

And that’s all it takes in order to express hearsay; we simply append ~そう to our verbs and い-adjectives, and だそう to our な-adjectives.

Using ~sou Correctly

The reason I mentioned that this grammar structure can be so tricky at first is because it is very easy to confuse the two functions; expressing how something looks/sounds/seems and expressing hearsay, as the structures are quite similar.

Let’s try a little exercise. How would you translate the following sentences?

1.

それは安いそうです。
Sore wa yasui sou desu.

Vs

それは安そうです。
Sore wa yasusou desu.


2.

彼はあれを買いそうです。
Kare wa are wo kaisou desu.

Vs

彼はあれを買うそうです。
Kare wa are wo kau sou desu.


3.

雪が降るそうです。
Yuki ga furu sou desu.

Vs

雪が降りそうです。
Yuki ga furisou desu.


4.

これは便利そうです。
Kore wa benrisou desu.

Vs

これは便利だそうです。
Kore ha benri da sou desu.


Of course, we aren’t only limited to using these structures in the present, affirmative tense. As we get more and more comfortable with them, we can work on making much more grammatically complex sentences, perhaps by talking about things in the past, or in the negative… or even the past negative! That, however, is beyond the scope of this article. Remember, before tackling the more difficult stuff, it is extremely important to build a solid foundation of the basics.

So, that will do it for today, dear reader. Thank you for coming along with me on this grammar adventure. I hope it was useful to you.

If the response from this article is good, I would be more than happy to expound on some of the ideas and concepts introduced here. Until then, 頑張ってください!

– Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen
Author, Learn Japanese From Some Guy


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Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen

Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen

初めまして! My name is Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen, author of Learn Japanese from Some Guy.

My goal in life is to travel around the world and learn as many languages and experience as many cultures as possible. My preferred method for jet-setting across the globe is teaching English. I've spent six months in Mexico, four and a half years in Japan, eight months in Spain, and I am now currently living and teaching at a high school in China.

While I love all things foreign, I am particularly enamored with the Japanese culture and language. Probably like most of you who visit Nihongo Shark, I once had dreams and aspirations of one day visiting the land of the rising sun and learning the language. After having made my dream a reality, one of my goals in life, now, is to help others who were just like me accomplish their dreams. That's why I wrote my book, and that's why I'm also glad to have teamed up with Niko. I certainly wish I had known about his site way back when I first started on my Japanese language journey!

When I'm not studying a language or traveling, I enjoy reading (manga, of course), dabbling a little in programming, and gaming. Any Hearthstone players out there?

Anyway, I wish you all the best in your quest to conquer Japanese. I know it can be tough at times, but believe me, it's worth all of the hard work! 頑張ってください!

Jeremy “Some Guy” Rasmussen

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