I wanted to say: "I became unable to hear."

I said: "聞こえなくなった" but I was corrected and told to say: "聞けなくなった"

That sounds strange to me. I've never even heard the verb form "聞ける"

  • what does "聞こえなくなった" mean?
  • what does "聞けなくなった" mean?
  • how do you say "I became unable to hear." ?
  • 1
    Is there any context? Was there something you stopped being able to perceive? Did you become unable to hear in any capacity?
    – user1478
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:09
  • @snailboat The full context is that I was telling someone how much I loved music. And, so I said: "曲を聞こえなくなったら、生きていけない気がする。" But, I was corrected and told to say "曲を聞けなくなったら、~" And so, "聞こえる" is how you negotiate the start of a Skype call. I'd thought of "聞こえるよ" as "I can hear you.", but maybe I need to think of it as meaning "You are audible to me." something like that... Still, I don't think I've ever heard a native speaker say "聞ける" even though it is grammatically ok.
    – david.t
    Jul 17, 2015 at 0:27
  • @David_W. I've edited my answer according to this information; it seems I was misinterpreting the question slightly. You are right that "聞こえる" should be thought of as "to be audible [to]" rather than "to be able to hear".
    – laurencevs
    Jul 17, 2015 at 1:08
  • People definitely say 聞ける. It's somewhat less common; I checked some corpora and found that 聞こえる was between 2x and 5x more common in writing. The difference could be somewhat larger in speech, but I don't have numbers so I can't say. (The question of when or how to use each word is probably more important than the question of frequency, though.)
    – user1478
    Jul 17, 2015 at 1:11
  • Who told you to say "聞けなくなった"? Literally "聞こえなくなった" = "became inaudible" and "聞けなくなった" = "became unable to hear." (Oops, this is already written by @laurencevs .) If you say "私は耳が聞こえなくなった" to mean "I became unable to hear," that sounds alright to me.
    – eltonjohn
    Jul 17, 2015 at 5:21

1 Answer 1


【聞こえる】 is the intransitive form (自動詞) of 【聞く】, which is a transitive verb (他動詞). And 【聞ける】 is the potential form of 【聞く】

音が聞こえる = The sound is audible

音が聞ける = I can hear the sound

In japanese, you can use some verbs' intransitive form to express the potential, so that you can do something, especially 【聞こえる】 and 【見える】.

The nuance between both sentences above is :

音が聞こえる = The sound is audible, so you can hear it and it just feels like a simple potential form.

音が聞ける = I can hear the sound, I have ears, or something made you be able to hear the sound for example.

The same goes with 【見れる】 and 【見える】, usually we would use the intransitive form to express the potentiality.

As for you sentences :

聞こえなくなった = It became unaudible, so you couldn't hear it anymore.

聞けなくなった = I became unable to hear, because I had put a cask on my head for example.

That's the way I see them.

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