Consider the following pairs,

  • can hear: 聞ける (the potential of 聞く) and 聞こえる
  • can see: 見られる (the potential of 見る) and 見える

I am interested to know the etymologies of how some words have explicit potential forms while other words do not have. What are their purposes? I think it is redundant.


Is there any terminology used to refer to words having explicit potential sense?

  • 5
    Strictly speaking, 聞こえる and 見える are 自発(spontaneous)動詞, not 可能(potential)動詞.
    – chocolate
    Jul 1, 2015 at 7:31

1 Answer 1


見える and 聞こえる come from classical forms 見ゆ and 聞こゆ. These potentials would be natural to those verbs, but they've survived past the originals' death.

  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean by 'natural to those verbs'. I would say that they used to be applicable to all verbs and no longer are.
    – Sjiveru
    Jun 28, 2015 at 20:47
  • 1
    I mean, /miyu/ would logically have potential /miyeru/, and since there's no /ye/ it's /mieru/.
    – Angelos
    Jul 17, 2015 at 22:50
  • 見える came from 見ゆる, which is the attributive form of 見ゆ, not the potential.
    – user4092
    Jul 29, 2015 at 3:27
  • @user4092, Shogakukan's 国語大辞典's entry for 見える gives a derivation from 見ゆ, not 見ゆる. 見ゆ is described as the 自発形 of 見る. Feb 7, 2016 at 2:10

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