Saturday, March 23, 2019

-sou ~そう - Suffix

WIP: this article is incomplete and might change in the unforeseeable future.
In Japanese, -sou ~そう means what something "seems" to be. It's a suffix that can be attached to verbs and adjectives, and can be inflected like a na-adjective: sou na そうな, sou ni そうに.

This article is about the sou suffix. If the sou you're looking for isn't a suffix, then it must be sou そう, "that way," the kosoado pronoun.
  • futsuu 普通
    Normal. (no-adjective.)
  • futsuu sou 普通そう
    [It] seems normal. Seemingly normal.
  • kirei 綺麗
    Pretty. (na-adjective.)
  • kirei sou 綺麗そう
    [It] seems pretty.

With i-adjectives, the sou suffix attached to the stem, which means it replaces the i い.
  • itai 痛い
    Painful. (i-adjective.)
  • itasou 痛そう
    Seems painful.
  • itasou na kao 痛そうな顔
    A face [that] seems painful.
    • He's making an expression that looks like he's in pain.
  • itasou ni kikoeru 痛そうに聞こえる
    To be heard [in such way that] it seems painful.
    • By the sound of it, it seems painful.

With verbs, the sou suffix is attached to the connective form, the ren'youkei 連用形, also called the masu stem.

When attached to verbs this way, sou そう means it "seems" in the sense that it looks like, but is not yet. This detail is kind of important. For example:
  • shinu 死ぬ
    To die. (verb.)
  • shinisou 死にそう
    To seem to die. (wrong!)
    To look like it's going to die, but hasn't died yet. (right.)

The reason this happens is because Japanese has two times: past and non-past. The ren'youkei isn't a past form, thus it must be a non-past form, and non-past means, literally, not in the past, so it hasn't happened yet.

Which is why in the example above someone looks like they're about to die but haven't died yet.

When attached to the past form, then it works as you would expect:
  • shinda 死んだ
    To have died. (past form.)
    [It] died.
  • shinda sou da 死んだそうだ
    [It] seems to have died.

Grammatically, in the case above we aren't "attaching" the suffix. We're using sou そう as a noun. It's a noun that's being qualified by a relative clause, which is basically a fancy term for a verb that's an adjective.
  • The seeming [that] [it] died.
    • Seeming: noun.
    • That: relative pronoun.
    • It died: relative clause.

What's important is that this relative clause can be as complex as you wish and sou will still work the same way:
  • kare no neko ga byuoki de shinda sou da
    彼の猫が病気で死んだそうだ
    The seeming [that] his cat died by sickness.
    • It seems his cat died of sickness.

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