Today in my JLPT text book, I came across the word 解{げ}す.

I know that the kanji means "unravel", and it can be read 解{わか}る, and with that reading it's synonymous with 分{わ}かる, "to understand".

When I looked up 解{げ}す in the dictionary, it also seems to just mean "to understand" when read this way.

Which made me wonder - why use this reading instead of the usual 解{わか}る reading? Does it carry any extra or different nuance?

Is this reading as rare as I think it is, or is it just me that hasn't come across it very often?

  • 2
    I mainly encounter this in the potential-negative, I think, as 解{げ}せない. It feels to me like "incomprehensible", "cannot fathom" etc., as opposed to "can't understand" -- like you can't even begin to unravel an explanation for it. It's mainly used when talking about failure to understand people's motivations, I think?
    – Hyperworm
    Jan 21 '12 at 12:00
  • @hyperworm, answers are for answers :) Jan 21 '12 at 16:55
  • @silvermaple I felt that I had too many "I think"s to put it as an answer, and it's not exactly fleshed out ;) Well, I'll post it.
    – Hyperworm
    Jan 21 '12 at 19:31
  • 1
    @hyperworm, have confidence in yourself (^.^) Jan 21 '12 at 19:33

Moved to answer from comments.

I mainly encounter this in the potential-negative as 解{げ}せない. As opposed to 解{わか}らない ("don't understand"), 解{げ}せない feels more like the speaker has tried and failed to unravel any kind of explanation, as if the situation seems to defy all logic - "can't fathom/comprehend" feels like a close English equivalent.

It seems to come up a lot in the context of failure to understand people's motivations.

研究社 新和英中辞典 @ Weblio:

We can't understand why she said such a thing.

英辞郎 @ Space Alc:

What is beyond our comprehension is that


The only common usages I can think of are 解{げ}せない and 解熱{げねつ}.

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