I came across 話せる, as the potential form of 話す. However, 話せる can also be found in dictionaries as a verb on its own. It can even take inflections, and has its own potential form, 話せられる! I don't really understand what that could mean (to be able to be able to speak?).

In this question, it's presented as merely a form of 話す, along with other potential forms. But there I couldn't find a dictionary entry for 泳げる for example.

How come? Is it just a form that's important enough to have its own dictionary entry, or is it a separate verb? Is it because it has a second meaning (2. to be understanding; to be sensible​)?

Are there other verbs like this?

  • 2
    Most dictionaries with inflections listed produce those lists automatically. The existence of a particular conjugation in a particular entry doesn't necessarily mean it's valid or meaningful.
    – Leebo
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 10:09
  • 1
    The same dictionary lists 出来られる, 出来させる, and 出来させられる as valid forms in its entry for できる. They are clearly auto-generated.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 11:22
  • @aguijonazo So not all the forms are correct? Do any of them exist at all? 話せた seems fine to me Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 12:47

2 Answers 2


Yes, the dictionary breaks out this potential form exactly because it has a secondary meaning (which is derived from the generic potential).

Good monolingual dictionaries also do this. For example:


はな・せ る[話せる]⦅自下一⦆
①〈話/わけ〉が よくわかる。



はな・せる[3] 【話せる】


はな・せる③ 【話せる】


アクセント はなせ↓る
〘動サ下一〙《話すことができる意から》話し相手とするに足りる。物わかりがよい。話が わかる。「うちの校長は―・せる」


「英語 が/を話せる」


〘サ下一〙 (「はなす(話)」の可能動詞)

It also occurs for other potential forms that have gained a secondary meaning. Here are Sankoku entries for a few such verbs:

わら・える [笑える]わらへる⦅自下一⦆

な・ける [泣ける]⦅自下一⦆

い・える [言える]いへる⦅自下一⦆
「たしかに それは━」
〔一九七四年に広まった ことば。「言えてる」の形は一九八〇年代に広まった〕

It is natural that they would need to make a headword for the potential to be able to write the extra meaning somewhere.

However, as far as the weird auto-conjugation list in jisho goes, that's just junk. These potential-derived verbs are basically intransitive stative verbs, meaning they behave something similar to できる, which you can't add られる or させる to either. (Though, I think if you said 社長は話せられる it would borderline work as keigo, though it's an odd thing to say due to the mixing of formality levels.) It's basically just a semantic restriction that it's hard to stack potential/passive/etc on top of something already stative, especially when that state is something that is not easily changeable (like being a good conversation partner).

  • This is interesting. The few other so-called potential verbs you mentioned are mostly spontaneous. What is the exact meaning of える form? I wonder in what cases える will gain spontaneous meaning instead of potential.
    – Jimmy Yang
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 17:58
  • 1
    @JimmyYang I asked a related question some years ago but there is not really further information provided in the one answer there: Potential forms of verbs that have gained a spontaneous meaning (e.g., 泣ける) Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 18:21
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    @JimmyYang - Historically "potential" forms began as forms to express spontaneous sense. Ordinary (non-linguist) native speakers don't particularly see them as derived or secondary meanings.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 23:25
  • @aguijonazo "Historically 'potential' forms began as forms to express spontaneous sense." -- this is very interesting, do you happen to know any articles that go into this topic in more depth?
    – max
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 22:31

There is nothing really special about 話せる. I cannot answer why the dictionary you linked has a separate entry for it. It could be for the second definition, which is somewhat different from the normal potential sense.

In general, potential forms (e.g. 話せる), passive forms (e.g. 話される), and causative forms (e.g. 話させる) do have their own inflections. They all conjugate as ru-verbs (a.k.a. Group-II or ichidan verbs). You definitely need their ta-forms (話せた/話された/話させた) and te-forms (話せて/話されて/話させて) to express tense or aspect.

The potential form of a potential form/verb makes no sense for the very reason you thought 話せられる was strange. As a matter of fact, the following (order-sensitive) combinations are all invalid.

  • potential-potential (x 話せられる)
  • potential-passive (x 話せられる) [see this]
  • potential-causative (x 話せさせる)
  • passive-potential (x 話されられる)
  • passive-passive (x 話されられる)
  • passive-causative (x 話されさせる) [see this]
  • causative-causative (x 話させさせる)

The causative-potential and causative-passive forms are identical. In the case of 話す, they are both 話させられる (the causative form being 話させる). This is a valid form and usually listed separately as causative-passive in conjugation tables. It has its own ta-form (話させられた) and te-form (話させられて).

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