The last post was a bit long, so I split it into two. I want to talk about more about the use of this tense in verbs.
My instinct tells me that it is used more often with the potential form of verbs than with the dictionary form.
(Quick potential review:
食べる 食べられる can/is able to eat
行く 行ける can/is able to go
する できる can/is able to do
Here is a comparison:
食べそう appear to eat
行きそう appear to go
しそう appear to do
食べられそう appear to be able to eat
行けそう appear to be able to go
できそう appear to be able to do
With the dictionary forms, it’s difficult (for me at least) to think up examples. I mean, either the person is or isn’t eating or doing whatever it is they are eating or doing. It’s a very objective judgment.
With the potential, on the other hand, you are making a subjective judgment about what someone (either yourself or someone else) appears able to do. I mean, sure, you’ve eaten twenty hot dogs before in an eating contest, and now, looking at the plate of twenty-five in front of you, it doesn’t look so bad, right? You could probably eat twenty-five. While you think you can eat twenty-five, you want to express a bit of that doubt and subjective judgment:
In English, I might be comfortable translating this to the Thomas the Train Engine “I think I can.” In English “I think…” is often used to express the fact that you subjectively believe something to be true but are slightly unsure. It’s used this way in Japanese too, but perhaps not as often. And this tense is less hefty than attaching a big fat 〜と思います to the end of whatever it is you are out there thinking subjectively.