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I see them both used in the same way and both seem to get equal hits in Baidu. Here are some sample sentences containing each.

http://www.dictall.com/st/60/37/60372038C00.htm

http://www.dictall.com/dictall/result_sentence.jsp?cd=UTF-8&keyword=%E7%9C%8B%E8%B5%B7%E6%9D%A5

Dictionary definitions are similar...

看起来

①动看来。 看起来得你亲自出马。 ②动从表面上看。 看起来老实,实际上未必。

看上去

动从外观上估计(多在句子中充当插入成分)。 老人看上去有70岁。

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The difference seems subtle and I can't figure out immediately. –  Stan Aug 26 '13 at 15:35
    
I quite agree with what this person wrote in another forum. –  杨以轩 Aug 26 '13 at 16:20
    
@Stan lol I started to write an answer... but as I was writing I was like "wow, I really don't know" haha. I'd be interested to see an answer –  Growler Aug 26 '13 at 16:21
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According to this academic paper: All of 看起来, 看上去 and 看来 indicate an subjective judgement. Sometimes they are interchangeable but sometimes not. 看上去 tends to be "the result of observation", and shows more sense of evaluation. 看来 tends to be "the result of logical reasoning", and shows more sense of conjecture. 看起来 is in the middle of 看上去 and 看来 ... So ... in a word, it's just subtle and as a native speaker I feel no need to distinguish them so seriously. –  Stan Aug 26 '13 at 16:59
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@Stan, those are really minor issues. The crux of his argument is that 看上去 is only used when referring to appearance and that 看起来 can be used when referring to an apparent action or some quality that is more abstract or complex than appearance. I disagree that the usage of 看上去 in 你的车看上去没油了 is ok. Though the author did make some mistakes when comparing the two, he did manage to differentiate the two quite succinctly in his last example: "你妹看上去挺漂亮的" vs "你妹看起来挺漂亮的". –  杨以轩 Aug 27 '13 at 3:26

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I am not a linguist, and thus can only give you my perspective as a native speaker.

Yes, they are quite similar. So I would only talk about their subtle differences here.

看起来: More often, 看起来 is used when you make a guess by FEELing but not necessarily really physically seeing.

e.g. Today you did not come to school because of a bad fever. I may call you and say:"今天怎么没来上学啊?看起来你上病了啊!" Note here that I did NOT see you at all before I make the guess that you are sick.

看上去: 看上去 is used usually when you express your feeling by really seeing something.

e.g. The moment I see my girlfriend in a beautiful dress. I may go like:"亲爱的,你今天看上去真漂亮!". Note here I can also use 看起来.

To summarize:

You may use 看起来 no matter you really see it or not, but when you see something, I recommend you 看上去. But Please note that it may largely depend on personal preferences.

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Though 看上去 is used usually when really seeing something, it's not necessary to be always. See my example: 他写了十年程序,看上去很有经验(的样子)。 –  Stan Aug 27 '13 at 7:23
    
@Stan Just edited so as not to be too absolute. Thanks for the advice in the chat room. :) –  Sibbs Gambling Aug 27 '13 at 9:16

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