Is there a difference between the sentences

"The general case seems to be open."


"The general case appears to be open." ?

Or are they interchangeable?

  • 3
    They mean the same thing. "Appears" is a slightly more formal register; it would likely be used more often in writing, and "seems" might be used more often in speech. – Dan Bron Jun 24 '15 at 10:08
  • @DanBron Funny, always thought "appear to (verb)" meant pretty much the same thing as "turn out," as in "Alexander Grant's wife appears to be deceased in 1820" and "Alexander Grant, Sr., appears to have had three sons." archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GRANT/1998-01/0885957415 – Elian Sep 25 '15 at 14:52

Following the principle of not using a certain word if a more precise one is available, I would use seem here, which is the more subjective of the two choices. In your example, the "general case" most likely is not an object that can be seen. If it were, then appear would be the better option, because this verb more precisely indicates the act of perceiving a physical object. But since "case" in this sense sounds like an abstract notion of a question to be decided by some kind of deliberation, the more abstract verb is appropriate. Both verbs can be used to say "gave the general impression of," but only one--seem--mainly means just this, while appear has multiple meanings and therefore could be confusing to a non-native speaker.

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It often happens that there is a Germanic word (to seem, German scheinen) and the Latin/French word (to appear. Latin appare:re, French apparaître). Both words mean the same, "to seem" is the common word, "to appear" a variant, a bit more elevated in style.

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