seem vs appear

Roymalika

Senior Member
Punjabi
Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress. It is economically weak, and will be in the coming years.
Maria has a good decision making skill. She also has management skills. She seems like a CSP officer. (Because a CSP officer has these skills)

Source: self-made

Can I use "appear" instead of "seem" in above sentences?
 
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  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No. And I don't think you can use 'cannot seem' either.

    What do you want 'Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress' to mean?

    I suspect you mean 'Pakistan doesn't seem to have made . . . '
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I still don't understand. What makes Pakistan (or anything) not able to seem . . . ? Why don't they have the ability to seem . . . ?

    You could use 'appear' but it would still not make sense. I would ask the same questions as I've asked about 'seem'.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress. :cross:
    Pakistan cannot be seen/be said to have made economic progress. :tick:
    Pakistan does not seem/appear to have made economic progress. :tick:

    She seems like a CSP officer. :confused:

    The only way I can imagine “cannot seem” being used by a fluent English speaker is in a statement such as: “Where are my keys? I’m sure I left them on the table, but now I can’t seem to find them.”
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The only way I can imagine “cannot seem” being used by a fluent English speaker is in a statement such as: “Where are my keys? I’m sure I left them on the table, but now I can’t seem to find them.”
    :thumbsup: I wonder whether the proposed sentence in #1 results from a mistaken belief that this structure possesses a past-tense form.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Since both of those examples are so unnatural, I think this is just a misunderstanding of how to use seem. But I see your point:

    I can’t seem to [do] = It seems that I’m unable to [do]

    Similarly:
    Pakistan cannot seem to make progress = Pakistan seems (= appears to be) unable to make progress
    Pakistan could not seem to make progress = Pakistan seemed unable to make progress
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    I still don't understand. What makes Pakistan (or anything) not able to seem . . . ? Why don't they have the ability to seem . . . ?
    Suppose a foreigner friend of mine visits Pakistan. He stays with me for a month. He keeps observing the economic conditions. He says, 'It seems that Pakistan has made economic progress.' I am a little disappointed. I think that it is impossible. I say, 'Pakistan can't seem to have made economic progress (=It seems to me that Pakistan is unable to make economic progress).

    Is it clearer now?

    NB.
    A tecaher told that "seem" can be used with "cannot" and "like". While, "appear " shouldn't be used with "like" and "cannot". That's why I made up sentences in the OP and wanted to confirm whether the tecaher is right.
     
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    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I say, 'Pakistan can't seem to have made economic progress (=It seems to me that Pakistan is unable to make economic progress).
    Additionally, You say you want to say "unable to make" (which is correct) but you're putting "unable to have made" into your sentence which is strange.
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    Additionally, You say you want to say "unable to make" (which is correct) but you're putting "unable to have made" into your sentence which is strange.
    Sorry, I made a mistake.
    I think this is clear now:
    Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress = It seems to me that Pakistan is unable to have made economic progress.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No, it still doesn’t work to mean that. You’ve made up an unnatural statement. The only thing it could be interpreted to mean is:

    It’s impossible for Pakistan to seem/appear to have made economic progress [already/in the past/before now].
    =
    Pakistan is incapable of giving the impression of having made economic progress.
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    No, it still doesn’t work to mean that. You’ve made up an unnatural statement. The only thing it could be interpreted to mean is:

    It’s impossible for Pakistan to seem/appear to have made economic progress [already/in the past/before now].
    =
    Pakistan is incapable of giving the impression of having made economic progress.
    Can you tell me whether the teacher is right.

    NB.
    A tecaher told that "seem" can be used with "cannot" and "like". While, "appear " shouldn't be used with "like" and "cannot". That's why I made up sentences in the OP and wanted to confirm whether the tecaher is right.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think your teacher may have been making a valid point, which you’ve misunderstood. You need to forget your statements and look at the construction where “cannot seem to [do something]” means “seem/appear to be unable to” do it. In this case, it’s true that appear to doesn’t work.

    We can’t seem to make any progress with this research. :tick:
    We can’t appear to make any progress with this research. :cross:*
    But…​
    It seems that making progress is impossible. :tick:
    It appears that making progress is impossible. :tick:

    * In that construction, the meaning changes radically if you use appear rather than seem.

    We can’t appear to make any progress with this research. :eek:
    =​
    We can’t/mustn’t give the impression of making any progress with it.​
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    I think your teacher may have been making a valid point, which you’ve misunderstood. [....]

    What about the second situation in the OP, please?
    Maria has a good decision making skill. She also has management skills. She seems like a CSP officer. (Because a CSP officer has these skills)

    Here can I replace "seem" with "appear" with no change in meaning?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    What about the second situation in the OP, please?

    Here can I replace "seem" with "appear" with no change in meaning?
    Maria has a good decision making skill. She also has management skills. She seems like a CSP officer.

    That third sentence makes no obvious sense. If it implies anything, it’s that she seems/appears to be a CSP officer (whatever that is) but probably isn’t one. The very idea that possessing certain skills makes someone seem to have a certain occupation (which seems to be what you mean?) is abnormal.
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    Maria has a good decision making skill. She also has management skills. She seems like a CSP officer.

    That third sentence makes no obvious sense. If it implies anything, it’s that she seems/appears to be a CSP officer (whatever that is) but probably isn’t one. The very idea that possessing certain skills makes someone seem to have a certain occupation (which seems to be what you mean?) is abnormal.
    Right, thanks.
    But the teacher said that we can use "like" with "seem", but not with "appear". (Seem like:tick:, appear like :cross:)
    What about this statement? Does it sound right to you?

    Let's imagine a different context.
    Yesterday I was in a shopping mall. I saw a woman asking people to maintain social distancing, and wear masks. She seemed like an officer. But later, I came to know that she wasn't. She was the manager of the shopping mall.
     
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    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That’s certainly true in some constructions.

    It seems/appears that he’s already left. :tick::thumbsup:
    It looks like he’s already left. :tick:
    It seems like he’s already left. :thumbsdown: (but not uncommon)
    It appears like he’s already left. :cross:
    He seems/appears to be a good man. :tick:
    He seems like a good man. :tick:
    He appears like a good man. :cross:
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress. It is economically weak, and will be in the coming years.
    Maria has a good decision making skill. She also has management skills. She seems like a CSP officer. (Because a CSP officer has these skills)

    Source: self-made

    Can I use "appear" instead of "seem" in above sentences?
    The syntax of seem/appear is either interesting or weird, depending on your point of view.

    For one thing, the subjects that those verbs assign is a proposition, not a person. For another, seems takes a "that-clause" or infinitive clause as "proposition," and the proposition is either true or not true. Lastly, the "experiencer" (or logical subject) is expressed by a prepositional phrase.

    So, if I understand your intended meaning, it's something like:

    Pakistan doesn't seem to have made economic progress

    where "Pakistan" is not really the "subject" of "doesn't seem." "Pakistan" is the subject of the infinitive. In actuality, the sentence looks like this (and let's assume the experiencer is "me"):

    For Pakistan to have made economic progress doesn't seem to me

    which looks awkward and clunky, and not modern English. One way to fix this is by moving the infinitive clause to the back (this is known as extraposition), leaving "Pakistan" at the front, and removing the logical subject "me" (because it's understood and therefore not needed); that's how we end up with:

    Pakistan doesn't seem to have made economic progress

    The other version, with a that-clause:

    That Pakistan hasn't made economic progress seems to me
    It doesn't seem (to me) that Pakistan has made economic progress


    The problem with your example is the you've added the modal verb (plus negation) can't. As a result, when you say "Pakistan can't seem to," you are giving "volition" to "Pakistan," (volition = the faculty of using will power), but volition is a property of sentient beings (like human beings), not of countries. And so,

    Pakistan cannot seem to have made economic progress

    sounds as if Pakistan is a conscious being who is unable to economic progress. By contrast, I can say

    I can't seem to have made progress

    because I am sentient being; I have volition.

    The syntax of appear is very much like that of seem, with an added nuance; appear has this notion of "disguise." So, if you say

    Pakistan cannot appear to have made economic progress

    it sounds as if a group of people are deliberately trying to make it look like Pakistan hasn't made economic progress.

    On another front,

    seems like is just a variation of seems that

    It seems like she is trouble
    It seems that she is trouble


    Either way, we are presenting the proposition "she is trouble" as true/likely to be true.

    appears like kinda goes in a different direction. Whereas seems like is about "inference" (a conclusion based on some evidence), appears like has a connotation of "reporting," and reporting implies "observation."

    It seems that she is in trouble (inference/assumption)
    It appears that she is in trouble (reporting based on observation)

    But while seems like is a variation of seems, appears like isn't quite a variation of appears, probably because appear has another meaning: "start to be seen." And so

    He appears like a good man
    isn't the same as
    He seems like a good man

    Rather,

    He appears like a good man
    sounds like
    He makes an appearance (and therefore starts to be seen) in the manner of a good man

    Or so it all seems to me.
     

    Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    the proposed sentence in #1 results from a mistaken belief that this structure possesses a past-tense form.
    Sorry, could you please explain what point you're making here? You mean the structure "can't seem to do something" doesn't have a past-tense form? i.e. we can't say "couldn't seem to do something"?
     
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    Man_from_India

    Senior Member
    India
    Additionally, You say you want to say "unable to make" (which is correct) but you're putting "unable to have made" into your sentence which is strange.
    How do you feel about "Pakistan can not seem to make economic progress".
    Though it sounds strange to me yet I can not explain why.

    Following examples that strangely doesn't seem off:

    Losing weight means resisting all the " sinful " joys that most people can not seem to live without -- that juicy burger topped with fatty bacon and slathered with dressing and all the works, that creamy tub of triple chocolate ice cream, that addictive puff of nicotine, or that intoxicating swig of alcohol.

    Private-sector firms keep putting more workers on the automated payrolls, even if the government can not seem to find them.
     
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    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Sorry, could you please explain what point you're making here? You mean the structure "can't seem to do something" doesn't have a past-tense form? i.e. we can't say "couldn't seem to do something"?
    Sorry. What I mean was that "can't seem to do something" doesn't have a past form with "cannot seem to have + past participle".

    We can of course say "couldn't seem to do something": "For the first ten minutes this morning, I couldn't seem to use the keyboard properly."
     
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