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Occasionally I come across an interesting usage of 合える with a verb stem, mostly when I listen to music. One such example can be found here at approximately 0:42: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgSDZfcq_9o

"分かり合えない、あなたと私”. As far as I can guess, this means "we don't understand each other, you and I"(or lit.: our understanding cannot meet). However, since I couldn't find any useful information using Google, I really can't be sure of it.

I would really like to know how common this kind of usage is, and in what situations it would/wouldn't be fitting. Could anybody shed some light on the matter?

Much appreciated :)

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合える is the Potential conjugation of 合う。

Attaching ~ 合う (あう)to the end of a verb stem means to do the action with each other or to do the action mutually with someone else.

(See more examples on the source page)

Attaching 〜合う and 〜合える in this way is pretty common.

To determine whether it would be fitting in a certain situation, a good rule of thumb is to ask “Is the verb something you do to or amongst each other?”

I advise against “with each other”, because for example you don't say 「泳{およ}ぎ合う」 to mean “swim with each other”. (In the rare case that it is used, it means more like “swim amongst each other” as if intermingling.)

A few combinations will need special attention as they have a counterintuitive meaning:

落{お}ち合う

Does not mean “drop each other”, but to “meet up”.


Added:

A Japanese friend who is more knowledgeable than me in grammatical terms told me that what I wanted to say in the “rule of thumb” section is better summed up as: “whether the verb is intransitive (自動詞) or transitive (他動詞)”. 〜合う is only attached to transitive verbs.

A great example they gave was the verb fly, which can be both intransitive (飛{と}ぶ) and transitive (飛ばす). This explains why you generally don't say 「飛び合う」, but you can say 「飛ばし合う」.

  • What are some other verbs ending in 合う which have counterintuitive meanings? – jogloran Sep 14 '15 at 21:15
  • @jogloran That is a great topic and you may want to post it as a separate question. I said “a few combinations” but that is only relative to the huge number of possible combos, as you can surmise from this incomplete (!) list: poppyandbell.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2011/09/… – mirka Sep 14 '15 at 21:48
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    Isn't it that the original meaning of 落ち合う was a meeting of two rivers and like 合流する is now used to describe "the flow of" people? While in English we say a river "flows into" another, there are European languages in which a river "falls into" another river (which corresponds to 落ちる). When you think this way, it does not seem that much counterintuitive. – macraf Sep 15 '15 at 4:13
  • @macraf Yes, and I think there are similarly logical explanations for the other “counterintuitive” ones I had in mind. Maybe I should have said figurative or non-obvious rather than counterintuitive? – mirka Sep 15 '15 at 10:16
  • That's actually really interesting, macraf. Thank you for that! – strawberry jam Sep 15 '15 at 17:21

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