Wild Nihongo!
きこえる / きける

きこえる / きける

きこえる / きける Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Group 2 Verb

Essential Meaning: Audible / Can be heard (indicates passive auditory potentiality)

Construction: Group 2 Verb


  • There is a subtle and important distinction to be made between こえる (a group 2 verb indicating auditory potentiality) and ける (the potential form of く [To hear]).
  • こえる indicates a passive auditory potentiality. In other words, something can be heard without the hearer making an active effort or decision to hear, and the hearer is unable to alter the situation. For example, if you can hear your neighbor’s music through the wall, the music is audible independent of your volition. Or, if someone is speaking too quietly, you have no potential to hear them even if you try. こえる is often used to refer to one’s sense of hearing (or lack thereof).
    • E.g. みみこえない。[My ears have no potential to hear (i.e. I’m deaf).] In this case, the speaker has no potential to hear through their ears.
  • ける, on the other hand, indicates that the subject can actively or purposefully hear something. For example, if you go on Youtube you can choose to hear many Japanese songs. If you buy a pair of wireless headphones, you can listen to music while you run. In short, ける is used when the hearer deliberately puts his or her self in the position where they are able to hear something.
    • E.g. いいステレオをったからレコードがける。[Because I bought a nice stereo, I can listen to records.] In this case, the speaker puts himself in the position to hear records by means of the stereo.
  • Sometimes, the choice between こえる and ける depends on whether the speaker perceives the situation as being alterable or inalterable. In other words, if the speaker has the ability to alter the situation so that they can hear or they can no longer hear, ける is appropriate. But if they have no ability to change the situation, こえる is appropriate.
    • E.g. 音楽おんがくがうるさくてはなしこえない。[The music is so loud that the conversation is inaudible (and there’s nothing we can do about it).] Due to the presence of こえる, the situation is apparently unalterable.
    • E.g. 音楽おんがくがうるさくてはなしけない。[The music is so loud that we can’t hear the conversation (and there’s something we can do about it by turning down the volume or by moving elsewhere).] Due to the presence of ける, the situation is apparently alterable.

Example Sentences:

わたしはウグイスのこえがよくこえる。[For me, the nightingale’s sounds are very audible.]

そのおとちいさすぎてこえない。[That sound is too quiet to be heard.]

大山おおやまさんのこえおおきいのでとなり部屋へやひとにもよくこえる。[Oyama-san’s voice is so loud that even the people in the neighboring room can hear it.]

わたしにはおてらのかねのおとこえたが、おとうとにはこえなかった。[For me, the temple’s bell was audible. But for my little brother, it was inaudible.]

テーラーさんのつくったぶんへんこえる。[The sentences that Tara made sound strange.]

WILD Examples:

At 1:29, listen for this line. こえるかがや地平線ちへいせん [I can hear a voice calling out to me across the shining horizon]

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