I'm in trouble about how I construct the sentence. The main sentence is "They are having an argument." I want to put either "seem" or "look" before that. Which sentences are good and which sentences are wrong grammatically? Or maybe which ones sound natural? Could you explain it?

1) They look like they are having an argument.
2) They seem like they are having an argument.
3) It looks like they are having an argument.
4) It seems like they are having an argument.
5) They seem to be having an argument.

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    All of those work. Jun 13 '14 at 23:51
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    What @StoneyB said. Also They appear to be arguing / Apparently they're arguing, and variants like It would seem they're arguing, etc. They're all semantically equivalent, and there's nothing really to choose between one and another. Jun 14 '14 at 0:44
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    Sometimes @Fumble and I seem to be having an argument, but I think we're usually just having a conversation about the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of language. :^)
    – J.R.
    Jun 14 '14 at 1:01
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    Thank you for all your comments and I didn't realize that I can also use "appear" here. I have spent so much time checking these usages and didn't find any answer, but actually all the sentences would work. I'm glad to find out about that. Jun 14 '14 at 1:11
  • @J.R.: Haha, you're quite right! But there's also the problem that text comments online lack all the context of intonation, facial expression, etc., plus they're often nowhere near "real-time". I notice you're pretty consistent about including smileys as appropriate - some of my comments that don't go down well might have passed muster if I could only remember to do the same. :) Jun 14 '14 at 1:15

If there is a difference, it is that you have to be able to see them to say 'They look like they are having an argument'. If you hear raised voices and occasional thumps from the apartment next door, you can't say 'They look like ...' but you can say 'They seem like they are having an argument'. There is possibly less difference between 'It looks like ... ' and 'It seems like ...'.

By the way, you didn't list '6) They look to be having an argument'. Is that grammatical/meaningful for anyone?

  • Thank you. Then in the second case, I can say,"They sound like they are having an argument." Am I right? Concerning list 6) I wonder if this is possible. I'm curious. Jun 14 '14 at 8:11
  • Yes, when your main perception is hearing, you can say 'They sound ...' or 'It sounds ...'. You can say 'It smells like they're eating pizza ...' but not 'They smell like they're eating pizza'. 'Seems' goes with any sense of perception. I'm still thinking about 'They look to be having an argument'. I'm interested in what other people think.
    – Sydney
    Jun 14 '14 at 9:32
  • I'm not sure it's the case. If I'm reading the news about, say, football, and I'm telling my friend about it, I can say any of That game looked/seemed/sounded bad for the Socceroos (Let's "pretend" I don't really understand football. Any of them fit. Did I see the game? Only by proxy. Did I hear the game? Not really - again, only by proxy.
    – jimsug
    Jun 14 '14 at 20:38
  • @SydneyAustraliaESLTeacher Thank you for the further explanation. Very helpful. Jun 15 '14 at 9:54
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    I am glad to help. I am enjoying being involved on this site. After a lot of thought, I decided that 'They look to be having an argument is correct, but is probably rare. @jimsug: yes, becoming aware second-hand presents a problem. I think a lot depends on whether you hear the news (on radio) ('It sounds like ...') or see it (on tv, in newspaper) ('It looks like ...') but I think 'looks' is broad enough in meaning that we could use it here: 'This whole situation (however I become aware of it) looks ...'. By the way, the Socceroos lost but were not disgraced.
    – Sydney
    Jun 15 '14 at 10:02

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