Saturday, March 23, 2019

-sou ~そう - Suffix

In Japanese, when sou そう is a suffix, it means something "seems" to be somehow, or that you've "heard from someone" that it was somehow.

It Seems

When the sou そう suffix means "it seems," it's attached to the stem of i-adjectives, the noun form of verbs, and the stem of auxiliaries, too.
  • futsuu-sou 普通そう
    Seems normal.
  • kirei-sou 綺麗そう
    Seems pretty.
  • oishi-sou 美味しそう
    Seems delicious.
  • ochi-sou 落ちそう
    Seems [it will] fall.
    • ochiru 落ちる
      To fall. (verb.)
  • kate-sou 勝てそう
    Seems [I] can win.
    • kateru 勝てる
      To be able to win. (potential form.)
    • katsu 勝つ
      To win.
  • katena-sou 勝てなそう
    Seems [I] can not win.
    • katenai 勝てない
      To not be able to win. (negative form of potential.)
  • yarita-sou やりたそうだ
    Seems [he] wants to do [it].

Irregular Words

There are two exceptions, two adjectives that normally get sou そう attached to their sa-forms, rather than to their stem.

なそう vs. なさそう

The word nai ない has multiple functions in Japanese. When it's attached to another words to put them in their negative forms, it becomes na-sou なそう, but when it simply acts as an adjective, it's nasa-sou なさそう.
  • okane ga nai
    Money is nonexistent.
    [That guy] doesn't have money.
  • okane ga nasasou da
    Money seems nonexistent.
    [That guy] seems to not have money. (he looks poor.)
  • moenai
    To not burn.
  • moena-sou
    Seems to not burn. (it doesn't appear to be combustible.)


The sou そう suffix can be inflected like a na-adjective. This works by using the na な particle, that acts as an attributive copula, replacing the predicative copula da だ, and making the relative clause sou na そうな.
  • oishii keeki
    Delicious cake.
  • oishi-sou da
    It is delicious-seeming.
    It seems delicious.
  • {oishi-sou na} keeki da
    It is a cake [that] {is delicious-seeming}.
    It is a cake [that] {seems delicious}.

Note that using sou そう in this manner turns the adjective into an assumption. In oishi-sou na keeki, you assume the cake is delicious. In oishii keeki, you assert that it is delicious, as you have either eaten it already or you have confidence about it.


Like any na-adjective, sou そう can be converted to adverbial form with the ni に particle, that acts as an adverbial copula.
  • {oishi-sou ni} taberu
    To eat it {in a way that is deliciously-seeming}.
    To eat it deliciously-seeming.
    To eat it like it's delicious.

Again, this is a mere guess of the speaker based on how things look. Someone could be eating something they dislike, but the speaker could be imagining they're loving it for some reason.

Furthermore, "seeming" isn't limited to how things look. It could be to how they sound, smell, and so on.
  • {ita-sou na} kao
    A face [that] {is painful-seeming}..
    A face [that] {looks painful}.
    A painful face.
    A painful expression.
  • {ita-sou ni} kikoeru
    To be heard {in a way that is painful-seeming}.
    To be heard painfully-sounding.
    To sound like it's painful.

彼女いないって 居そうに無いもんねー! 超ウケル! ふふっ
Manga: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (Chapter 6, 白銀御行は隠したい)
  • Context: a guy was asked:
    • kanojo ga iru?
      Do [you] have a girlfriend?
  • kanojo inai tte~~!
    [He] said "[he] doesn't have a girlfriend"!
  • isou ni nai mon ne~~!
    [He] doesn't seem [he] would have [one], right~~
    • Here, a second girl says the guy doesn't looks like he would have a girlfriend. She's judging him by his appearances.
    • mon もん
    • ne
  • chou ukeru!
    [That's] super funny!
    • ukeru 受ける
      To receive. (literally.)
      To find funny. (slang.)
  • fufu'

I heard

Another way the sou そう suffix is used is to say you've heard that something was somehow.
To have an idea of the differences:
  • oishii-sou da
    I heard that it is delicious.
  • oishi-sou da
    It looks delicious.

With i-adjectives, whether the -i ~い remains or the suffix is attached to the stem changes the function of sou そう.

With verbs the difference is more obvious. The "seems" meaning often implies something hasn't happened yet, it just seems it will, can, or is maybe is happening. The "I heard" meaning, on the other hand, is often used with things that already happened.
  • shini-sou da
    [He] seems [he] will die.
    • Oh no! Someone help!
  • shinda-sou da
    I heard [he] died.
    • Welp. Nothing we can do anymore.


The way sou そう is used resembles a noun. In particular, it resembles the light noun you よう. However, sou そう is not a noun, it's a suffix.

We know this because phrases ending with the predicative copula da だ can get sou そう suffixed right after them. If it was a noun, da だ would turn into the attributive na な copula in order to create a relative clause to qualify it.
  • kanojo wa neko ga suki da
    As for her, cats are liked.
    She likes cats.
  • kanojo wa neko ga suki da-sou da
    As for her, cats are liked, I heard.
    I heard that she likes cats.
    • I heard it from someone.
  • kanojo wa {neko ga suki na} you da
    As for her, it's the guess [that] {cats are liked}.
    I think she likes cats.
    • I'm not sure, but I'm guessing this is true.

When sou そう is used with nouns (no-adjectives) and na-adjectives, you can tell if it's "it seems" or "I heard" by the presence of the copula.
  • genki-sou da
    Seems lively.
  • genki da-sou da
    I heard from someone that [he] "is lively."
  • futsuu-sou da
    Seems normal.
  • futsuu da-sou da
    I heard from someone that [it] "is normal."

See Also

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