June 13

Kikoeru vs. Kikeru: Hearing and Listening「聞こえる」「聞ける」


Similar to English, there are words in Japanese that feel like they should be the same thing, but they have distinct nuances that determine when you can use them. Today Kumiko Sensei has written about the common misunderstanding between kikoeru vs. kikeru.

If you didn't catch it, her last article on the common uses of ki is here.

Don't stress the kikoeru kikeru thing – this is one of those situations in Japanese where once you learn it, you'll never forget it!

Japanese Text Example: Kikoeru vs. Kikeru


  「きく」と「きこえる」の違いは英語の listen toと hear に似ています。「きこえる」は英語の hear に意味が近い自動詞で、「私の声がきこえますか?」のように、きこえる状態ですかという意味で使います。漢字で書くと「聞く」です。一方、「きく」の可能形「きける」は意思を持ってきく場合に使われます。英語の listen to に意味に近いですね。「Podcast で日本語の番組がきけますよ。」のように使うことができます。漢字で書くと「聴ける」です。

In large halls, the lecturer faces the people seated in the back and asks, “can you hear me?”

Some people may wonder: they’re asking, “are you able to hear,” so why don’t that use the potential form of “to hear” (kiku), kikeru?

However, in this case, we use kikoemasu ka, and not kikemasu ka. Kikoeru is a different verb than kiku. How do we use these verbs? Let’s take a look.

The difference between kiku and kikoeru is similar to “listen to” and “hear” in English. 

Kikoeru is an intransitive verb like “hear” in English, so the phrase “can you hear my voice?” (watashi no koe ga kikoemasu ka?) is really asking “is my voice able to be heard.” When you write this using kanji, you use the character 聞く.

On the other hand, you use the potential for of kiku, the word kikeru, when you want to talk about “intentionally listening” to something. For example, you could say, “PODCAST de nihongo no bangumi ga kikemasu yo” (you can listen to Japanese episodes via podcasts.) The kanji you would use here is 聴ける.


It can be tricky to understand the difference between kikoeru and kikeru at first glance, but you'll likely find yourself using one far more often than the other.

On the phone: 聞こえるの? Kikoeru no? (Can you hear me?)

With your friends outside: あれっ?聞こえた? Are? Kikoeta? (What the– did you hear that?)

When you're sitting through a presentation: 聞こえますか? Kikoemasu ka? (Can you hear alright?)

Surprisingly, the word kikoeru gets used a lot in Japanese. In a country where there can be a lot of noise distraction, perhaps it's a natural mechanism to make sure important things don't get missed...

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