What is the difference in meaning between 'apparire' and 'sembrare'?

  1. Questo fenomeno appare davvero inquietante.

  2. Questo fenomeno sembra davvero inquietante.

Please, explain in reference to the difference, if any, between 1. and 2..

  • 2
    I'd add, as an almost synonymous to “sembrare”, the verb “parere” (related to “apparire”) too, even in sentences where “apparire” wouldn't be used, such as “mi pare/sembra di sì”.
    – DaG
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 22:22

3 Answers 3


Appear and seem are the respective exact translations. There is almost no difference in meaning of those two sentences, but the two verbs are not interchangeable in every context, just like in English.

Apparire refers more to "becoming manifest, come into view"; sembrare implies more a personal opinion behind the statement: it seems (sembra - to the speaker or to a collective group) expresses some interpretation of what is happening.

For instance, the sentence:

Una nuvola appare all'orizzonte

cannot be written with "sembrare".

Moreover, "sembrare" is widely used in a probabilistic fashion with the subjunctive mood:

Sembra che stia per piovere (it looks like it's going to rain - it seems to me/to the ones watching the sky, but it's not certain-)

  • The example about the cloud makes perfectly clear in which cases the verbs are not interchangeable. +1 also for sembrare being used for something subjective, and not objective, even though I could say mi sei apparso triste, which would be subjective too.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 14:50
  • "Mi sei apparso triste" would mean that, in front of my very eyes, you looked sad. If you want to convey a subjective nuance, an assessment of a perceived sadness, you'd say "mi sei PARSO triste", which is exactly the same of "mi sei sembrato triste". Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:12
  • 1
    I think the difference is made from mi, which makes me read the sentence as a me sei sembrato triste, not as sei apparso triste quando ti ho visto. I would say sei apparso triste, if I want to convey an objective meaning. Clearly, I cannot say sei apparso triste if I didn't see that person; otherwise, I would say sei apparso triste, quando Luigi ti ha incontrato.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 20:20
  • 1
    This is a very good answer. I would say, however, that the term "probabilistic" here is a little misleading. Probably a more accurate way to express the main idea is that "sembrare" may convey an assessment or an estimate.
    – Daniel
    Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 8:43

IMO there is no difference between 1) and 2), let's wait for a native speaker to confirm it (or not).

Possible translations to english:

This phenomenon appears to be really disturbing.

This phenomenon seems to be really disturbing.

  • 1
    I agree: the two are synonyms. Even the two root terms ('apparenza' e 'sembianza') are synonyms.
    – FOR
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 22:59
  • Same as in Engish: appears is less convinced that seems, but by a slight margin.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 0:35

The Treccani dictionary says that ‘sembrare’ is synonymous with ‘parere’. In my opinion

questo fenomeno appare davvero inquietante

seems to be modeled after English (or French) rather than being proper Italian. But, apart from this, I see no real difference between the two sentences.

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