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In Japanese, there is a potential form to express that it's possible for something to be done.

My own examples of potential form:

辛【から】い食【た】べ物【もの】が食【た】べられる。 (I can eat spicy foods.)

ギターが弾【ひ】ける。 (I can play the guitar.)

But I also know of 見【み】える and 聞【き】こえる. I've heard them used as also meaning it's possible for something to be done (seeing for 見【み】える and hearing for 聞【き】こえる). But this isn't the potential conjugation of the original words, 見【み】る and 聞【き】く. The potential form would be 見【み】られる and 聞【き】ける.

What is the difference between the normal potential form and their "special" forms?

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By the way, on a phonentic, tangent, "rareru" iften becomes "reru" in speech. This change has a name: it is called "ranuki" (ら抜き). Removal of the "ra". –  Kaz May 8 '12 at 22:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

みえる = to be able to see. (precisely: to be seen/to be in sight)
⇒ Can you see the fujisan? => 富士山が見えますか?

みれる = to be able to watch.
⇒ Can you watch DVD with this? => それでDVDが見れますか?

The same for 聞ける (Can you listen) vs 聞こえる (Can you hear / precisely: to be heard/to be audible)

みえる and きこえる and not a special form of みる and きく, they are specific verbs by themselves.

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I disagree. mieru is the verb mi-ru in irrealis form (未然形) plus the suffix -yu --> miyu. This conjugates to miyuru > miyeru, with the middle -y- dropping out since Japanese no longer distinguishes between /e, ye/. Note that the above mireru is a so-called ら抜き form. School grammar dictates that this should be mirareru. –  Dono Apr 26 '12 at 0:44
I did not know about the suffix -yu. Can you tell me a bit more about it? And it's meaning? –  oldergod Apr 26 '12 at 1:02
I think it's safe to say that for all Modern Japanese purposes, 見る and 見える can be (re)analyzed as two different verbs. I would say they are a transitive-intransitive pair, as in 切る-切れる etc. In terms of Classical Japanese, aren't 見る and 見ゆ also two different verbs, or am I mistaken? There is some regularity to these transitive-intransitive pairs, but I'm not sure if it's ever been completely productive/regular. For example in 止める-止む, the verb with the -er- is the transitive one, unlike 切る-切れる。 –  dainichi Apr 26 '12 at 1:56
@oldergod: -yu is an old suffix that is no longer productive. It conjugates as [y]e, [y]e, yu, yuru, yure, - and attaches to the irrealis of quadrigrade (modern pentagrade), n-irregular, r-irregular, and r-irregular verbs. It may express 1) passive, 2) potential, and 3) spontaneous. You can also see it in fossilized forms such as arayuru and iwayuru. –  Dono Apr 26 '12 at 2:03
Interesting, thanks ! –  oldergod Apr 26 '12 at 2:57

What I've read regarding the 見える、見られる and 聞こえる、聞ける doesn't appear to have been mentioned here at all and I think it's probably the clearest explanation.

見える - something comes into view 聞こえる - something can be heard Both of these describe sights/sounds that can be sensed regardless of the speaker's volition, e.g. if you look out the window you can see the sky, or you can hear a baby crying. For these kinds of things you don't really have a say in the matter.

見られる - you can see something 聞ける - you can hear/listen to something These describe things that you can do (hence potential verbs) but on a volitional level. e.g. you can see a film at the cinema or you can listen to a song on the radio.

Hopefully that clears it up a little. If not then let me know and I'll try explaining another way

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Exactly. This is how it was clearly explained to me by my tutor some years ago. The difference is about volition. The classical explanations above are very interesting but for a student of Japanese this is the most helpful answer. –  edwinbradford Feb 26 at 5:13
Thanks, happy to help :) –  Ryuu Apr 18 at 18:55

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