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Many times while I talked to others or wrote some text messages I got confusion about which phrase I should use to express the actual meaning of the words

It seems . . .

and

It looks like . . .

Please help me to clarify my doubts about how to use these words correctly?

  • 2
    "It seems" is equivalent to "it looks" (without the "like"), and an adjective is expected to follow those. "It seems that/like" and "It looks like" are also equivalent, but a verb is expected to follow. -> "Look at that fish, it looks/seems dead", "Look at that fish, it looks like/seems that/like it's dead." On another note, you can also use a noun after "looks like" and "seems like", but not after "seems that" -> "that fish looks/seems like a shark." – MorganFR May 25 '16 at 12:22
  • @MorganFR - Example where "it seems" and "it looks like" can replace one another, where you can't user "it looks" without the "like": It seems I'm dying. It looks like I'm dying. Example of a noun after "seems that": Seems that poison can be hazardous to one's health. – nnnnnn May 25 '16 at 12:51
  • @nnnnnn I would personally use "It seems like/that I'm dying", but I suppose it can work too, because in a lot of cases, "that" is omited just like in "I think (that) I'm in love." However, "Seems (that) poison can..." is follow by a verbal clause, with "can" being the verb, you cannot use a noun group or a noun alone. Moreover, just as you said before, "that" can be omitted -> "Seems poison can..." – MorganFR May 25 '16 at 12:55
  • @MorganFR - Yeah, (it) seems (that) I was just being contrary. – nnnnnn May 25 '16 at 13:10
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    @MorganFR If you're going to answer the question, please answer the question. Comments are not a place for answers. – Catija May 25 '16 at 19:04
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There is a subtle difference in usage between the two.

When we say "it looks like", we are talking about a quick visual inspection. If we want to investigate something casually, we say we will "take a look". The implication is that this is a brief, "at a glance" impression, and while we have some confidence we are not absolutely certain. "It looks like" is usually used to imply something we are almost certain about. There is a saying: "If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, chances are... it's a duck."

When we say "it seems like", we are focusing on the impression given by the subject. There is more doubt implied in this phrasing, because it suggests you may be deceived, where "it looks like" suggests you are likely correct.

Both phrases are often used humorously. It's funny to use one of these phrases when the outcome is not in doubt. ("Well, we're all gonna die here." "Looks like.") ("That didn't work" "Didn't seem to, no.") It's also funny to see someone use one of these phrases to show they are casual in a very serious situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bbzuu14bGgs

  • It is interesting that the relative amount of doubt in these phrases seems (or looks?) to be treated differently here: quora.com/… – ps_ttf Feb 12 at 8:18

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