Similarity or hearsay

In Japanese there are many different ways to express likeness or similarity depending on appearance, behavior, or outcome. When learning these expressions for the first time, it is difficult to understand what the differences are between them because they all translate to the same thing in English. This lesson is designed to study the differences between these expressions so that you can start to get a sense of which is appropriate for what you want to say.

Expressing similarity with よう


  1. ここ – here
  2. 誰 【だれ】 – who
  3. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  4. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  5. 観る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to watch
  6. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  7. 静か 【しず・か】 (na-adj) – quiet
  8. あの – that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  9. 人 【ひと】 – person
  10. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  11. 気 【き】 – mood; intent
  12. する (exception) – to do
  13. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  14. 雰囲気【ふん・い・き】 – atmosphere; mood
  15. ちょっと – a little
  16. 怒る 【おこ・る】 (u-verb) – to get angry
  17. 聞こえる 【き・こえる】 (ru-verb) – to be audible
  18. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  19. 起こる 【おこ・る】 (u-verb) – to happen
  20. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say

We’ve already briefly gone over 「よう」 and learned that 「よう」 means an appearance or manner. We can use this definition to say that something has an appearance or manner of a certain state. This word can be used in many ways to express similarity. The simplest example is by directly modifying the relative clause. When the sentence ends in 「よう」, you must explicitly express the state-of-being by adding 「だ」, 「です」, or 「でございます」.

  1. ここには、誰もいないよう
    Looks like no one is here.
  2. 映画観たようです
    Looks like (he) watched the movie.

When directly modifying nouns or na-adjectives, you must use the 「の」 particle for nouns or attach 「な」 to na-adjectives.

  1. 学生ようだ。
    Looks like it’s a student.
  2. ここ静かようだ。
    Looks like it’s quiet.

Notice that example 1 does not say that the person looks like a student. Rather, the declarative 「だ」 states that the person appears to be a student. On a side note, you can’t say 「おいしいようだ」 to say that something looks tasty. This is like saying, “This dish apparently is tasty,” which can actually be kind of rude.

You can also use it as a na-adjective to describe something that appears to be something else.

  1. あの見たよう気がした。
    Had a feeling like I saw that person before.
  2. 学生よう雰囲気ですね。
    He has a student-like atmosphere.

Finally, we can attach the target particle to say things like, “I heard it like that” or “I said it like…”.

  1. ちょっと怒ったよう聞こえた
    Was able to hear it like (she) was a little mad.
  2. 何も起こらなかったよう言った
    Said (it) like nothing happened.

Using 「みたい」 to say something looks like something else


  1. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  2. 犬 【いぬ】 – dog
  3. もう – already
  4. 売り切れ 【う・り・き・れ】 – sold out
  5. 制服 【せい・ふく】 – uniform
  6. 着る 【き・る】 (ru-verb) – to wear
  7. 姿 【すがた】 – figure
  8. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  9. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  10. ピザ – pizza
  11. お好み焼き 【お・この・み・や・き】 – okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancake)
  12. 見える 【み・える】 (ru-verb) – to be visible

Another way to express similarity which is considered more casual is by using 「みたい」. Do not confuse this with the 「たい」 conjugation of 「見る」. The main difference is that this 「みたい」 can be attached directly to nouns, adjectives, and verbs just like particles which i-adjectives like 「~たい」 obviously can’t do.

Using 「みたい」 to say something looks like something else

  • Attach 「みたい」 to the noun that bears the resemblance. 「みたい」 conjugates like a noun or na-adjective and not an i-adjective.

Conjugation Example with 「
Positive Negative
Non-Past みたい
looks like a dog
doesn’t look like a dog
Past だったみたい
looked like a dog
didn’t look like a dog


  1. もう売り切れみたい
    Looks like it’s sold out already.
  2. 制服着ている姿みると、学生みたいです。
    Looking at the uniform-wearing figure, (person) looks like a student.

The implied meaning here is the person wearing the uniform is not really a student because he/she only looks like a student. This is different from example 3 from the previous 「よう」 section which implied that the person appears to be (but might not be) a student. Again, we also can’t say 「おいしいみたい」 to say that something looks tasty because it implies that, in actuality, the food might not be so good.

Don’t forget that 「みたい」 does not conjugate like the 「~たい」 form or i-adjectives.

  • このピザお好み焼きみたくない
    (みたい conjugates like a na-adjective.)
  • このピザお好み焼きみたいじゃない
    Doesn’t this pizza looks like okonomiyaki?

「みたい」 is a grammar used mostly for conversational Japanese. Do not use it in essays, articles, or anything that needs to sound authoritative. You can use 「よう」 instead in the following fashion.

  1. もう売り切れよう
    It appears that it is sold-out already.
  2. このピザお好み焼きよう見える
    This pizza looks like okonomiyaki.

Guessing at an outcome using 「~そう」


  1. いい (i-adj) – good
  2. バランス – balance
  3. 崩れる 【くず・れる】 (ru-verb) – to collapse; to crumble
  4. 一瞬 【いっ・しゅん】 – an instant
  5. 倒れる 【たお・れる】 (ru-verb) – to collapse; to fall
  6. この – this (abbr. of これの)
  7. 辺り 【あた・り】 – vicinity
  8. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  9. 漬物 【つけ・もの】 – pickled vegetable
  10. おいしい (i-adj) – tasty
  11. これ – this
  12. 結構 【けっ・こう】 – fairly, reasonably
  13. やはり/やっぱり – as I thought
  14. 高い 【たか・い】 (i-adj) – high; tall; expensive
  15. お前 【お・まえ】 – you (casual)
  16. 金髪 【きん・ぱつ】 – blond hair
  17. 女 【おんな】 – woman; girl
  18. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  19. もう – already
  20. ~時 【~じ】 – counter for hours
  21. なる (u-verb) – to become
  22. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  23. ただ – free of charge; only
  24. 試合 【し・あい】 – match, game
  25. その – that (abbr. of それの)
  26. 人 【ひと】 – person
  27. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  28. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  29. かわいそう (i-adj) – pitiable
  30. 犬 【いぬ】 – dog

The problem with English is that the expression, “seems like” has too many meanings. It can mean similarity in appearance, similarity in behavior or even that current evidence points to a likely outcome. We will now learn how to say the third meaning: how to indicate a likely outcome given the situation.

Just like the grammar we have learned so far in this lesson, we can use this grammar by simply attaching 「そう」 to the end of verbs, and adjectives. However, there are four important different cases. Actually, I just noticed this but the conjugation rules are exactly the same as the 「~すぎる」 grammar we learned in the last section. The only difference is that for the adjective 「いい」, you need to change it to 「よさ」 before attaching 「そう」 to create 「よさそう」.

Rules for conjugation

  1. Verbs must be changed to the stem.
  2. The 「い」 in i-adjectives must be dropped except for 「いい」.
  3. いい」 must first be conjugated to 「よさ」.
  4. For all negatives, the 「い」 must be replaced with 「さ」.
  5. This grammar does not work with plain nouns.

1. Verb must be changed to the stem.

For ru-verbs, remove the 「る」

  • バランス崩れて一瞬倒れそうだった。
    Losing my balance, I seemed likely to fall for a moment.

For u-verbs, change the / u / vowel sound to an / i / vowel sound

  • この辺りありそうだけどな。
    It seems likely that it would be around here but…

2. The 「い」 in i-adjectives must be dropped.

In the next example, the 「い」 has been dropped from 「おいしい」.

  • この漬物おいしそう!
    I bet this pickled vegetable is tasty! (This pickled vegetable looks good!)

Exception: The only exception to this rule is the adjective 「いい」. When using this grammar with 「いい」, you must first change it to 「よさ」.

  • これ結構よさそうだけど、やっぱり高いよね。
    This one also seems to be good but, as expected, it’s expensive, huh?

Nothing needs to be done for na-adjectives.

  • お前なら、金髪好きそうだな。
    Knowing you, I bet you like blond-haired girls.

3. For all negatives, the 「い」 must be replaced with 「さ」.

The negative of 「来る」 is 「こない」 so when used with 「~そう」, it becomes 「こなさそう」.

  1. もう10時なったから、来なさそうだね。
    Since it already became 10:00, it’s likely that (person) won’t come.
  2. これただ試合じゃなさそうだ
    This isn’t likely to be an ordinary match.

Identical to the 「~すぎる」 grammar, i-adjectives that are derived from the negative 「~ない」
like 「もったいない」 or 「情けない」 also follow this rule as well (which would be 「もったいなさそう」 and 「情けなさそう」 in this case).

4. This grammar does not work with plain nouns.

  • その学生そう

There are other grammar we have already covered that can be used to indicate that something is likely to be something else.

  1. その学生でしょう
    That person is probably student.
  2. その学生だろう
    That person is probably student.

Be careful never to use 「かわいい」 with this grammar. 「かわいそう」 is a completely different word used when you feel sorry for something or someone. 「かわいい」 means, “to look cute” already so you never need to use any of the grammar in this lesson to say something looks cute.

  1. このかわいそう
    Oh, this poor dog.
  2. このかわいい
    This dog is cute.

Expressing hearsay using 「~そうだ」


  1. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  2. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  3. 降る 【ふ・る】(u-verb) – to precipitate
  4. 毎日 【まい・にち】 – everyday
  5. 会う 【あ・う】 (u-verb) – to meet
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  7. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  8. 高校生 【こう・こう・せい】 – high school student
  9. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  10. 田中 【た・なか】 – Tanaka (last name)
  11. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come

The reason that there are so many annoying rules to using 「~そう」 is to distinguish it from this next grammar we will learn. This is a useful grammar for talking about things you heard that doesn’t necessary have anything to do with how you yourself, think or feel. Unlike the last grammar we learned, you can simply attach 「そうだ」 to verbs and i-adjectives. For na-adjectives and nouns, you must indicate the state-of-being by adding 「だ」 to the noun/na-adjective. Also, notice that 「そう」 itself must always end in 「だ」、「です」、or 「でございます」. These differences are what distinguishes this grammar from the one we learned in the last section. There are no tenses for this grammar.

  1. 明日降るそうだ
    I hear that it’s going to rain tomorrow.
  2. 毎日会い行ったそうです
    I heard he went to meet everyday.

Don’t forget to add 「だ」 for nouns or na-adjectives.

  • は、高校生そうです。
    I hear that he is a high school student.

When starting the sentence with this grammar, you also need to add 「だ」 just like you do with 「だから」

A: Is Tanaka-san not coming today?

B: So I hear.

Expressing hearsay or behavior using 「~らしい」


  1. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  2. 田中 【た・なか】 – Tanaka (last name)
  3. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  4. あの – that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  5. 人 【ひと】 – person
  6. 何 【なん】 – what
  7. 美由紀 【み・ゆ・き】 – Miyuki (first name)
  8. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  9. 子 【こ】 – child
  10. 子供 【こ・ども】 – child
  11. 大人 【おとな】 – adult
  12. する (exception) – to do
  13. つもり – intention, plan
  14. 大騒ぎ 【おお・さわ・ぎ】 – big commotion

「らしい」 can be directly attached to nouns, adjectives, or verbs to show that things appear to be a certain way due to what you’ve heard. This is different from 「~そうだ」because 「~そうだ」 indicates something you heard about specifically while 「らしい」 means things seem to be a certain way based on some things you heard about the subject. 「らしい」 conjugates like a normal i-adjective.

Example 1

A: Is Tanaka-san not coming today?

B: Seems like it (based on what I heard).

Example 2

A: What is that person over there?

B: Seems to be Miyuki-san’s friend (based on what I heard).

Another way to use 「らしい」 is to indicate that a person seems to be a certain thing due to his behavior.

  1. あの子供らしくない
    That child does not act like a child.
  2. 大人らしくするつもりだったのに、大騒ぎしてしまった。
    Despite the fact that I planned to act like an adult, I ended up making a big ruckus.

「っぽい」: Slang expression of similarity


  1. あの – that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  2. 人 【ひと】 – person
  3. 韓国人 【かん・こく・じん】 – Korean person
  4. 皆 【みんな】 – everybody
  5. もう – already
  6. 全部 【ぜん・ぶ】 – everything
  7. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) – to eat
  8. 恭子 【きょう・こ】 – Kyouko (first name)
  9. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 – not at all (when used with negative)
  10. 女 【おんな】 – woman; girl

A really casual way to express similarity is to attach 「っぽい」 to the word that reflects the resemblance. Because this is a very casual expression, you can use it as a casual version for all the different types of expression for similarity covered above.

「 っぽい」 conjugates just like an i-adjective, as seen by example 3 below.

  1. あのちょっと韓国人っぽいよね。
    That person looks a little like Korean person, huh?
  2. みんなで、もう全部食べてしまったっぽいよ。
    It appears that everybody ate everything already.
  3. 恭子全然っぽくないね。
    Kyouko is not womanly at all, huh?
Book Navigation<< Expressing AmountsUsing 「方」 and 「よる」 >>