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I've just started noticing this word a lot in books. Something about it rubs me the wrong way. For example, I read a book where the following happened

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. The walls and floors seemed to be moving

That struck me as wrong; because since the character is experiencing it, for them the walls don't seem to be moving, they are moving.

I feel like that passage above would be much better if it was rewrote as

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. The walls and floors started to move

It feels more active and definite, and I don't think anyones going to think that the walls and floors are literally moving

There's been many more times when an author has used the word "seem" and it's irked me. The word just feels kind of vague

I'm just wondering if this is just personal preference, or if there is some popular wisdom regarding the word. A quick google didn't bring up anything

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    Nonnative speaker warning: personally I prefer the seem version. To me it conveys "it appered so", I was dizzy, but I was aware that it's just the dizziness and the walls are not really moving. Your edit suggests the speaker is in a state of much more profound confusion (probably as a result of said hit to the head), losing basic awareness of the reality – Mori Aug 29 '19 at 9:18
  • @Mori Maybe it is just a personal preference thing then. But then also, maybe the authors I read just overuse the word "seem", so that's why it sticks out so much to me – klippy Aug 29 '19 at 9:38
  • maybe I too will start to notice it everywhere from now on:) – Mori Aug 29 '19 at 11:22
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The thing is the two say very different things, this one:

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. The walls and floors seemed to be moving

makes it clear that for the POV character they are aware that the walls and floors aren't really moving even as they are experiencing it.

Whereas in:

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. The walls and floors started to move

it's..fuzzier. They aren't thinking clearly enough to be cognizant of that distinction in the moment.

I've (unfortunately) taken a few knocks to the head over the years and in more severe cases the latter scenario definitely happens. It takes a second or so for your conscious brain to catch up and apply reason to what it's perceiving, so when I read those two passages I'm automatically drawing parallels to my own experiences and the second speaks to me of a more severe knock and a greater level of impairment.

There is also the matter of tense to consider - if the perspective of the book is that of a definitively past tense first person account where the POV character recounting the story from a reference frame beyond the action (e.g. it's a journal or a tale being told to another character etc) then putting the mistaken perception as if it were "fact" is clunky at best.

If you've got a particular dislike for the word "seem" itself then there are other ways to express the same thing without it:

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. For a moment it felt as if the walls and floors were moving.

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    Excellent point about the distinction between realizing how accurate your perceptions are and not. – Cyn says make Monica whole Aug 29 '19 at 17:11
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That struck me as wrong; because since the character is experiencing it, for them the walls don't seem to be moving, they are moving.

No, the word "seemed" is appropriate, if the character knows they are not actually moving, because hitting their head has impaired their vision system. They know the walls only seem to be moving, they are not really moving.

"The walls began moving" suggests the walls are actually moving; if you want to use that language, then (in first person) you need to qualify for the reader what is really happening.

I stumbled to the ground and hit my head. I got back up. The walls and floors started to move, but I realized this was an illusion, and waited for my eyes to return to normal.

If you have a 3rd person narrator, then regardless of what the character believes, the 3P narrator would use "seem" because the narrator didn't hit their head, they know the reality that the walls only seem to be moving.

Charlie stumbled to the ground and hit her head. She got back up. The walls and floors seemed to be moving, she ignored that and dashed for the door.

Unless you are in dialogue, or writing the internal thoughts of a character (in italics), you need to be careful about what you describe in narration (even in first person). If the character doesn't believe their own senses, they won't report their senses as reflecting reality. Virtually none of us immediately after bumping our head would think the walls are really moving.

This is why, when my character believes something that is actually untrue, I always find a way to state her belief as her direct thoughts in italics, or something she says in dialogue. At worst, my narrator might say "Cindy believed him." I don't want my narrator to state something that isn't true, like "He was telling the truth."

(But I write with a reliable narrator.)

(I think most of us would suspect we physically shocked nerves controlling the eye and they weren't firing properly; thus not compensating for our normal head and body movement to stabilize our vision (like steady-cam technology does), making it seem like the walls were moving when it was our own head moving around. Or we shocked nerves that coordinate our eye movements with each other, which can cause similar issues. At least, those would be my first guesses if a head bump interfered with my vision.)

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