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I was recently at a showcase for Montreal's new Azur metro cars that would be on tracks starting 2014. I walked into one of the demo cars they were showing and noticed that there appeared to be less seats in the new cars than in the current ones.

I wanted to ask one of the STM showcasers about this; specifically, I wanted to say

"It appears as though there are less seats here than in the current metro. Are there less seats?"

I didn't know how to say this so I expressed it much less proficiently, but I'd still like to know how I can say the way I wanted to. Specifically, how can I tell someone that something "appears" a certain way? I'll give some examples to show what I'm talking about:

  • "It (appears as though)/(looks like)/(seems like) there are less seats here than in the current metro. Are there less seats?"
  • "It (appears as though)/(looks like)/(seems like) you haven't slept in days! Are you alright?"
  • It (appears as though)/(looks like)/(seems like) all the bathrooms here are occupied. We can go to the bar across the street."
  • "It (appears as though)/(looks like)/(seems like) they finally launched the French Language Stack Exchange site."

So how can I express this kind of sentence accurately in French? (And for anyone wondering, it's two less seats).

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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The common idiom is on dirait que (TLF: I.B.1.a.γ). It is followed by a verb in the indicative mood.

On dirait qu'il y a moins de sièges¹ ici que dans le métro actuel. Y a-t-il effectivement moins de sièges ?

Other impersonal constructions are possible. Avoiding the impersonal on makes for slightly more formal writing. Another common idiom is il semblerait que, followed by the subjunctive.

Il semblerait qu'il y ait ici moins de places assises que dans le métro actuel. Est-ce effectivement le cas ?

Variants include il semble que (a bit stronger than il semblerait, as the use of the conditional mood gives less weight to the semblance), and il apparaît que (rather strong: you do not expect contradiction, and rather formal: you wouldn't use it in everyday conversation, but it's what you would write in a formal report).

Like in English, personal formulations are also possible. Here are two possible translations with a construction similar to “this metro seems to have fewer seats than the current one”. The first is more formal than the second.

Ce métro semble disposer de moins de sièges que les rames actuelles.
Ce métro a l'air d'avoir moins de sièges que le métro actuel.

Your other examples would use similar phrasings.

It appears as though you haven't slept in days! Are you all right?
On dirait tu n'as pas dormi depuis des jours ! Ça va bien ?
Tu as l'air de ne pas avoir dormi depuis plusieurs jours ! Tu n'es pas bien ?

It looks like all the bathrooms here are occupied. We can go to the bar across the street.
On dirait que les toilettes sont toutes occupées. Nous pouvons aller au bar en face.

It looks like they finally launched the French Language Stack Exchange site.
On dirait que le site Stack Exchange sur la langue française a démarré.
Apparemment, le site Stack Exchange sur le français a démarré.

(Apparemment is a bit stronger, it indicates that you do not expect a refutation.)

In English, you can denote a specific method of perception through a verb. This is often not possible in French: if the method of perception is important, it will usually be conveyed through a complement or a different phrasing.

Your voice sounds strained. Have you been crying?
Tu as l'air enroué. Tu as pleuré ?

This tastes like cinnamon.
On dirait de la cannelle.
Ça a un goût de cannelle.

Something smells rotten. (figuratively: there's trouble brewing)
Ça sent le roussi.

If the reason why you think something is true is that you've been told, rather than your observation, you can use the verb paraître in the impersonal form.

I heard from someone that the next metro will have fewer seats.
Il paraît que le prochain métro aura moins de sièges.

¹ ou : de places assises

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Très bonne réponse. Pour "It looks like they finally launched the French Language Stack Exchange site.", on peut aussi dire " Il parait que..." –  oli Jun 16 '12 at 20:30
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I would say there are two main ways of expressing this idea in French, namely "il semble (que)" (perhaps literally translated as "it seems (that)") and "on dirait que" (literally "one would say that"). "It appears as though" can be translated as "il appert que", but it is a very literary phrasing and I do not recommend using it.

"Il semble (que)" is more formal than "on dirait que", but absolutely acceptable (and said) in casual conversations. The opposite if of course not quite true. I would however be more tempted to use the informal tone when talking to someone about how they look, like if your example.

On dirait que tu n'as pas dormi depuis des jours! Est-ce que tout va bien?

As for the metro car question you could have used either phrasing:

Il semble y avoir moins de places assises dans les nouveaux wagons, est-ce bien le cas?
On dirait qu'il y a moins de places assises dans les nouveaux wagons. Est-ce que c'est le cas?

The case would be similar for your other examples.

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Actually the literal translation for on dirait que... would be one would say that.... –  Jez Jun 15 '12 at 8:43
@Jez Very true indeed, I shall change it. –  Kareen Jun 15 '12 at 13:53
Il appert? Ah, from the verb apparoir. I have never heard or even read this verb. In France, it would not be understood. We might use il apparaît que (from apparaître), it is idiomatic in this kind of context and rather formal. Is apparoir used in Québec? –  Gilles Jun 15 '12 at 14:45
@Gilles It is not really used, no, but I have a translator friend who uses that phrase in some of his written communications. I put it up there to point out that it exists, but as I said, I really don't recommend using it. –  Kareen Jun 15 '12 at 15:11
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