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The verb 堪える has three different readings: こたえる, こらえる, and たえる, and as far as I can tell they all mean "to bear, to endure, to put up with", with slight variations. Is there a way to tell which reading is correct in any given instance? Is it nuanced or a regional variance?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Kanjigen only lists 堪{た}える and Kanjidic lists that reading first, so I'm guessing it would normally use that reading. Looking at the Goo thesaurus, こらえる seems to be often written with Hiragana.

こらえる also has the additional meanings of "refrain, repress, keep back". As fefe has noted, it's normally ~をこらえる and ~に堪{た}える as the former generally refers to holding back feelings from within whereas the latter generally refers to enduring pressure etc from outside. こらえる seems to take the meaning of "endure, stand" when written as ~はこらえられない and ~はこらえて et al.

It may be read as 堪{こた}える in some contexts, but I think that reading is usually only used in e.g. 踏{ふ}み堪{こた}える and 持{も}ち堪{こた}える.

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Comparing the goo explanation for こらえる たえる and こたえる, we can see that:

堪{こら}える is usually used with を: 痛みを[堪]{こら}える
堪{た}える is usually used with に: 暑さに[堪]{た}える
堪{こた}える is often used to form compound words: 踏み[堪]{こた}える

And for , 堪{た}える is the only kun reading listed in 常用漢字, so you may see the other two be written in kana more.

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I wish I could check two answers, or combine them, I +1'd this one :) – silvermaple Dec 22 '11 at 1:29

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