differentiating between the usages of "seem"


I am wondering if the explanations correct and whether what is the difference between different "seems".

  1. He seems happy.
  2. He seems a happy fellow.
  3. He seems to be a happy fellow.
  4. He seems to work hard.
  5. He seemed to be happy

"Seem" also enters into an 'impersonal' construction which employs 1) the 'dummy' subject it + an active tensed form with "seem", followed by 2) a that clause (sometimes called a 'content' clause) which expresses the assertion which is hedged or qualified.

  1. It seems that he is happy (but he may not be).

  2. It seemed that he was a happy fellow (but he wasn't).

  3. It will seem that he is working hard (but he will in fact be spending his time answering questions on ELL instead of working).

  4. He is seemed to be something.


Posted 2015-05-12T19:57:44.993

Reputation: 5 551

1I hope you did not misunderstand my parentheticals on the second group to imply that the it seems that . . . construction in 6-8 has a different meaning than the copular construction in 1-5. They have the same meaning. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2015-05-12T21:19:33.703

2Not sure how these mean different things... and I'm not sure how #9 is correct. – Catija – 2015-05-12T21:34:48.547

Agreed: in 1-8, seem means the same thing, and #9 is not grammatical. You can say: He seemed to be something. – None – 2015-05-12T22:12:44.987



"Seems" means "appears to be". It is used when the speaker wants to say that the available evidence would indicate that something is true, but he is not prepared to say that it actually is true. Like, "It seems that John was late yesterday." He has reason to believe that John was late, but he isn't sure. Maybe he looked in John's office early in the morning and John wasn't there. But it's possible that John had just stepped out briefly and he missed him, etc.

Sometimes "seems" is used to imply that the statement is not true, as opposed to being of unknown truth. This depends on the context. "The salesman seemed honest." If you said that after making a purchase that you are uncertain about but don't have any specific problems, you mean "seem" in the "unknown" sense. If you said that after discovering a serious problem, you mean that you thought it was true at the time but now you know that it was not.

Your example 1-8 all seem :-) to be using the word in this sense.

Number 9 is a grammar error. You can say, "He seemed to be [something]", but not "he is seemed".


Posted 2015-05-12T19:57:44.993

Reputation: 51 729