I recently learned that for ichidan verbs such as 見る you replace the る with られる or just れる to get the potential form. Nevertheless on WK you learn the word 見える which is translated as “to be able to see” which is also the potential form. Is 見る an exception to the rule or is 見れる also correct, and if so are they used in different situations?
見える is a separate verb from 見る. Don’t let the various English translations mess with what that verb is doing in Japanese. It is an intransitive verb that means something is visible. But you can say that in many ways in English.
The potential form of 見る is 見られる, and since it’s based on 見る, a transitive verb with a wide array of nuances, it is subtly different from 見える.
My understanding is that 見える is used to express that something is visible, while the potential form 見られる is used to say that you can actively see something (like “you can see this show on HBO tonight”).
Shouldn’t the WK definition be “to be visible”, then?
It does accept “to be visible”.
Whether you think that should be the first definition depends on where you come down on the “literal meaning” versus “natural translation” spectrum, and there isn’t a right answer.
Personally, I’m on the “natural translation” side. Last year, I was playing tennis outside with a Japanese person and we didn’t have lights on the court so it was getting hard to see. And he kept saying “見えない” whenever the ball came his way. In English the natural translation would definitely be something like “I can’t see” or “I can’t see it” and not “The ball is not visible”, but that’s literally the way the grammar works in Japanese.
Can’t 見える and 聞こえる also mean that it sounds/seems like something? Like 怒ったと聞こえる means “it sounds like they’re angry”?
I’ve never personally encountered that construction with 聞こえる, so I can’t say from direct experience. But I see 見える used that way all the time.
Such as ５歳に見える子 (a kid who looks 5 years old)
So I wouldn’t be surprised for 聞こえる to work the same way.
I’ve heard 聞こえますか & 見えますか during a webinar so this might come in handy sometimes