Learn English – “Seem”, “appear”, “look” — how to differentiate


Are there any significant structural or semantic differences between seem, appear and look in the sense of "to give the impression of being or doing something"?

  • She looks unhappy.
  • He seems angry.
  • They appear (to be) contented.
  • It looks as if it's going to rain again.
  • It looks like we're going home without a suntan.
  • It seems as if they're no longer in love.
  • It seems like she'll never agree to a divorce.
  • They appear to have run away from home. They cannot be traced.
  • I seem to have lost my way. Can you help me?
  • It seems to be some kind of jellyfish. Do not go near it.
  • They appear not to be at home. Nobody's answering.
  • They do not appear to be at home. No one's answering.
  • It seems that I may have made a mistake in believing you did this.
  • It appears that you may be quite innocent of any crime.
  • It looks as if/like you won't go to prison after all.
  • It seems a shame that we can't take Kevin on holiday with us.
  • It doesn't seem like a good idea to leave him here by himself.
  • It seems ridiculous that he has to stay here to look after the cat.

Best Answer

There is a semantic difference between look/appear and seem:

One should use look or appear when describing an observable condition - e.g.: Rhonda looks sad - the example implies that there is some observable state or behavior that supports the statement (Rhonda may have tears rolling down her cheeks, for example).

One should use seem to describe a perceived condition - e.g.: Rhonda seems sad - the example implies that the person making the statement has a perception regarding the condition of the subject.