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Comparing "xiande" and "kanqilai"

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Both 显得 (xiǎnde) and 看起来 (kànqǐlái) have meanings in English like "to appear to be" or "seems like," but their connotations are pretty different.

显得 emphasizes objectivity

显得 is used for objective descriptions and comparisons. Therefore, if you want to say that something is not very good, you can use 显得 to emphasize your objectiveness. It can be a "tactical" way to talk.

Structure

A + 显得 + B + Predicate

Examples

  • 这样 穿 显得 我 比较 成熟 。Zhèyàng chuān xiǎnde wǒ bǐjiào chéngshú.Dressing like this makes me look more mature.
  • 那样 吃 显得 你 很 没 礼貌 。 Nàyàng chī xiǎnde nǐ hěn méi lǐmào.Eating like that makes you look not very polite.
  • 这么 做 会 显得 你 很 小气 。 Zhème zuò huì xiǎnde nǐ hěn xiǎoqì.Doing it like this makes you seem stingy.
  • 那样 说 显得 她 很 笨 。 Nàyàng shuō xiǎnde tā hěn bèn.Talking like that makes her look stupid.
  • 这 种 颜色 的 衣服 显得 你 的 脸色 不 好看 。 Zhè zhǒng yánsè de yīfu xiǎnde nǐ de liǎnsè bù hǎokàn.This color of clothing doesn't go well with your complexion.

看起来 emphasize subjectivity

看起来 is the opposite in that it emphasizes subjectivity, paying close attention to how the observer feels.

Structure

Subj. + 看起来 + Predicate

Examples

  • 你 今天 看起来 很 高兴 。 Nǐ jīntiān kànqǐlái hěn gāoxìng.You seem very happy today.
  • 这个 餐厅 看起来 不错,我们 可以 试试。 Zhège cāntīng kànqǐlái bùcuò, wǒmen kěyǐ shìshi.This restaurant doesn't seem too bad, let's try it out.
  • 看起来 有 点 生气 。 kànqǐlái yǒu diǎn shēngqì.She seems a little angry.
  • 你 的 衣服 看起来 挺 贵 的 。 Nǐ de yīfu kànqǐlái tǐng guì de.Your clothes seems expensive to me.
  • 你 女朋友 看起来 像 我 的 中文 老师 。 Nǐ nǚpéngyou kànqǐlái xiàng wǒ de Zhōngwén lǎoshī.Your girlfriend seems like my Chinese teacher.

Example Dialog

  • A: 你 今天 看起来 很 苗条。A- : Nǐ jīntiān kànqǐlái hěn miáotiáo.You seem very slim today.
  • B: 可能 是 这 件 衣服 显得我 很 苗条 。 B: Kěnéng shì zhè jiàn yīfu xiǎnde wǒ hěn miáotiáo.It's probably these clothes that makes me seem that way.

Sources and further reading

Dictionaries