そう vs よう – Gaijinhan

そう vs よう

At Lena’s request, I’ve finally gotten down to writing this.

Before that, let me tell you about something you probably don’t care, but I want to say it anyway: I’ve just moved (for the 8th time in 6 years) out of Tokyo into Kawasaki and only recently got my Internet connection set up (the last post was done using my mobile phone). So, I hope I’m back in action now that most, but not all, things are settled.

Back to Lena’s question on the difference between そう and よう. Well, she actually asked about the difference between そう, よう, らしい, and みたい, but I figured it might be easier to break them up into different posts so, pardon me for making you wait.

The issue with searching about this online is that, there are several different uses of the four words that Lena is asking about. And that is why I took this long to figure out how best to explain them. I’m not even sure if my explanation can make sense but here goes:

そう and よう can both be translated as “seems” or “looks” (or any other terms the thesaurus Rex can come up with). The main difference is that そう in おいしそう, まずそう, 優しそう, 難しそう, etc. is used to voice your opinion based on what you see. When you think something looks tasty, you go おいしそう, or if you think it looks unpalatable, you go まずそう. If you think someone looks kind, you can say 優しそう, or if you think a challenge looks difficult, you can say 難しそう.

On the other hand, よう is used to voice other people’s opinions you heard. For example, if someone tells you the sushi at the Tsukiji fish market is tasty, you can say おいしよう(です). If someone tells you that corner store at Geylang market sells horrible food, you can say まずよう(です). If you hear that your neighbor is a kind person, you can go 優しよう(です). And if you hear that the JLPT N1 test is very difficult, you can say 難しよう(です).

A typical example using verbs would be 雨が降りそうです vs 雨が降るようです. Do note the difference between the verb forms. But since that’s not the purpose of this  post, I shall not dwell into it. Since そう is supposed to be your opinion based on what you see, you can say 雨が降りそうです when you see dark clouds in the sky. And since よう is someone else’s opinion that you heard, if your Dad tells you it’s going to rain, you can tell your friend 雨が降るようです.

Here comes the slightly complicated part: Depending on how you use it, そう can also be used to talk about information derived from another source, particularly the news. 雨が降るそうです is perfectly fine (note the verb form) but it means that you are saying that based on the news or the papers.

That’s all for today. We’ll talk about らしい and みたい next time.

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