1. I want to know if the verb seem can be used only for observable things? For example, if I guess the computer hard disk is failed doing some action and has some logical issues can I say: "It seems the hard disk has logical errors."? In this case, no physical failure is not observed on the disk but I know something is wrong with it.

  2. In case the "seem" is not suitable, what alternative verb do you suggest?

  • 1
    Seem "to appear to the observation or understanding"
    – Stuart F
    Nov 9, 2023 at 11:18
  • Seem and appear are the closest pair of English words that I know of. They even have almost the same syntax. Nov 9, 2023 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


I'd say there are various 'levels of reality' involved, and 'seem' can be used in any of them.

      (1) 'Seems' may be used to hedge statements for 'things' (involving physical objects / events) that are directly observable, either (a) because they're not immediately measurable accurately or (b) because the speaker is not too sure of the objectivity of their personal judgement on the matter:

            (a) That bear seems rather large from here.

            (b) This soup seems a little bland to me.

      (2) 'Seems may, like a hole, refer to 'things' that are deducible only from related directly (immediately) observable things (the sides of the hole, in the matrix material). This may involve (a) second-hand information, hearsay, or (b) things that are never / not yet observable directly, but can be inferred but not with certainty:

            (a) It seems that the conflict escalated from what had been (in one account) a trade                   dispute.

            (b) It seems that dark matter consists of massive particles that "clump" around galaxies

If there is more than a mere hunch that the hard disk in your example is failing, your example is like the deduction in (2b).

      (3) 'Seems' may also be used for more abstract 'things': (a) concepts, theories and (b) metaphorical aphorisms:

            (a) It seems possible that the Goldbach conjecture is true but unprovable.

            (b) Thus it is said: The path into the light seems dark, the path forward seems to go back,                   the direct path seems long, true power seems weak, true purity seems tarnished, true                   steadfastness seems changeable, true clarity seems obscure, the greatest are seems                   unsophisticated, the greatest love seems indifferent, the greatest wisdom seems                   childish.                                                                                                 [Lao Tzu]

  • (2)(a) is rather too broad: much of our knowledge is second-hand, but quite reliable, and we would not use seem in expressing it (nobody would say 'It seems that the First World War started in 1914'). There is also a tension between deducible at the beginning of (2) and not with certainty in (2)(b): if the inference really is deductive then, by definition of deductive, it cannot create a loss in certainty (the inferences that do create such a loss are inductive).
    – jsw29
    Nov 9, 2023 at 17:42
  • With regard to 'deducible', wrong deductions are certainly made, and 'safely deduced' can be found. Dictionary.com even has 'deduce: '. to derive as a conclusion from something known or assumed. // And certainly some hearsay evidence is erroneous and/or from dubious sources. I don't claim there is a 1 : 1 correspondence. Nov 9, 2023 at 23:00

The verb seem can be used of anything that 'gives the impression' of being a certain way, whether by sight, sound, or the way it behaves. You can't physically see the fault in the disk, but you can observe the way it functions (or doesn't).

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