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Why is が{ga} used instead of を{wo} in ~が{ga}[聞ける]{kikeru} in the following sentence?

[日本]{nihon} [に]{ni} [いながら]{inagara}、[フランス語]{furansugo} [の]{no} [ラジオ]{rajio} [番組]{bangumi} [が]{ga} [聞ける]{kikeru}。

If I understood correctly, it should literally mean "While in Japan, the French radio program listens," since "French radio program" is marked as the subject by が{ga}.

But, lo and behold, the translation of this sentence is: "You can listen to French radio programs while in Japan".

Now, if I use を{wo}, the translation becomes: "Listen to French radio programs while in japan".

This has confused the life out of me. Why is that so?

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  • kikeru is the potential form, although more likely the sentence uses kikoeru (better understood as a separate, related verb). Rather than "listens", you should translate "is audible". As an aside, trying to stick with romaji will seriously hinder your learning. It takes perhaps a couple of days to learn hiragana and katakana properly. Jul 29, 2023 at 9:22
  • Also, I have absolutely no idea what logic you're trying to present in the title, nor can I guess where your reference translations are coming from. Jul 29, 2023 at 9:27
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    @KarlKnechtel - "Kikeru" is correct here. One can listen to French radio programs.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 29, 2023 at 10:52
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    See this and the questions linked from it.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 29, 2023 at 11:55
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    Although its question is closed, I think this answer explains your question quite well. Jul 31, 2023 at 9:51

1 Answer 1

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There are two different things that are combining here and causing your confusion. First, the fact that the verbs for "to listen" and "to hear" use two different words that are very similar, and second, the verb is conjugated in the potential form. Let's take a look to each point (1. and 2.) separately.

1. [聞く]{kiku} vs [聞こえる]{kikoeru}

Note that for some verbs related to interacting with the world through our senses (to look, to listen, etc.) there are several words to express the same action in Japanese depending on wether the action is intentional or not. This somewhat corresponds to the dichotomies listen/hear and look/see in English.

  1. [聞く]{kiku} → to purposely listen. For example,

[演奏]{ensou} [を]{wo} [聞く]{kiku} (I listen to a musical performance)

  1. [聞こえる]{kikoeru} → to unintendedly hear. For example,

[隣]{tonari} [の]{no} [部屋]{heya} [に]{ni} [ある]{aru} [テレビ]{terebi} [が]{ga} [聞こえる]{kikoeru} (I hear the television next door).

The same can be said of [見る]{miru} (to purposely look at) and [見える]{mieru} (to see, to be visible).

So even if [聞く]{kiku} and [聞こえる]{kikoeru} are related, it's better if you regard them as different words, as @Karl Knecthel pointed out. In your original sentence, the verb is [聞ける]{kikeru}, which ultimately comes from conjugating [聞く]{kiku} (and not [聞こえる]{kikoeru}) to the potential form.

2. Potential form of [聞く]{kiku}

To make the potential form of some types of verbs, the last hiragana ending in "u" is replaced by the hiragana with the same consonant but ending in "e" + "ru":

  • [飲む]{nomu} To drink → [飲める]{nomeru} To be able to drink
  • [聞く]{kiku} To listen → [聞ける]{kikeru} To be able to listen

Now, [聞く]{kiku} is a transitive verb so it takes を{wo} to mark objects, but when using the potential form of a verb, i.e. [聞ける]{kikeru}, the particle を{wo} changes to が{ga}. You can find plenty of posts here discussing this change, as @aguijonazo commented. You can also find instances where を{wo} is used instead of が{ga} to mark the object of a potential verb, but in general the rule is that potential verbs take が{ga}. Using the previous potential verbs as an example:

[ジュース]{juusu} [を]{wo} [飲む]{nomu} ( [I] drink juice)

[お酒]{osake} [が]{ga} [飲めない]{nomenai}。 ( [I] can't drink alcohol)

[ラジオ]{rajio}[聞く]{kiku}。 ( [I] listen to the radio)

[日本]{nihon} [に]{ni} [いながら]{inagara}、[フランス語]{furansugo} [の]{no} [ラジオ]{rajio} [番組]{bangumi} [が]{ga} [聞ける]{kikeru}。 ( [You] can listen to radio programs in French while in Japan)

As @aguijonazo pointed out, you can also find instances where を{wo} is used instead of が{ga} to mark the object of a potential verb, but in general the rule is that potential verbs take が{ga}.

3. An example with [聞こえる]{kikoeru}

In order to highlight the difference between [聞ける]{kikeru} and [聞こえる]{kikoeru} in your context, let's think of an scenario involving the radio where it makes sense to use [聞こえる]{kikoeru} (to be heard, to hear) but not [聞ける]{kikeru} (to be able to listen to):

[ラジオ]{rajio} [で]{de} [ロック]{rokku} [の]{no} [番組]{bangumi} [を]{wo} [探していたら]{sagashiteitara}、[フランス語]{furansugo} [の]{no} [番組]{bangumi} [が]{ga} [聞こえてきた]{kikoetekita}。 While looking for a rock program in the radio, I could hear a French program.

As you can see, [聞こえる]{kikoeru} also takes the particle が{ga} but for different reasons than [聞ける]{kikeru}, i.e. because [聞こえる]{kikoeru} is an intransitive verb. Also note that even though I used "could" for the English translation of this last example sentence, this is not the potential form of [聞く]{kiku}, but the different verb [聞こえる]{kikoeru}.

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  • "you can also find instances where を is used instead of が to mark the object of a potential verb, but in general the rule is that potential verbs take が." This could stand to be expanded: does it depend on the verb, or specific situations, or just what? Jul 30, 2023 at 0:33
  • @KarlKnechtel Please see The difference between が and を with the potential form of a verb
    – jarmanso7
    Jul 30, 2023 at 0:36
  • ラジオでロックの番組を探しながら、フランス語の番組が聞こえた。 <- sounds unnatural, I'm afraid. 「~を探していたら、~が聞こえた(or more naturally 聞こえてきた)」 would be fine.
    – chocolate
    Jul 30, 2023 at 3:15
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    う~ん・・・「探している間に」でもいいかもしれませんが、「探しているとき」か「探していると」のほうがいいかな・・
    – chocolate
    Jul 30, 2023 at 14:36
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    探している間に〜 sounds like the French program came from a different source than the radio you were tuning, or it happened independently from what you were doing.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 31, 2023 at 19:41

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