Grammar Info
N4 Lesson 4: 17/18

to be visible, to seem, to be in sight

見える was originally a conjugation of 見る, but nowadays we treat it as a standalone intransitive verb. It is also used in honorific speech, meaning “to come.”

Noun + + 見える
Noun + + 見えます
Register Standard
使用域 一般
In the same way that 聞(き)こえる is used to describe things that are ‘audible’, 見(み)える can be used to describe things that are ‘visible’. 見(み)える itself is an intransitive verb, meaning that the object that is ‘visible’ will be marked with .
  • この部屋(へや)から富士山(ふじさん)見(み)えます
    Mount Fuji can be seen from this room.
  • 遠(とお)くに建物(たてもの)見(み)えるけどあれ何(なに)?
    I can see a building in the distance, but what is it?
  • パンツ見(み)えるくらいを下(さ)げ、先生(せんせい)に怒(おこ)られ
    My pants were sagging to the point where my underwear was visible, and I got scolded by my teacher.
When using 見(み)える, (A) will always be followed by . However, the ‘way that something looks’ will be marked adverbially. This means that an い-Adjective will be changed to its く form, and な-Adjectives/nouns will be followed by .
  • ここから小(ちい)さく見(み)えるけどあのビル130メートルもある。
    From here, the building looks small, but it is 130 meters tall.
  • あの仕事(しごと)大変(たいへん)に見(み)えるけど、簡単(かんたん)らしい
    That job looks difficult, but I heard that it is easy.
This usage of 見(み)える will be covered more in our focused lesson on this particular grammar structure.
Fun Fact
The primary difference between 見(み)える, and 見(み)られる (the potential form of 見(み)る), is that 見(み)える is used to identify things that do not require the active concentration of the spectator to be seen. In other words, seeing it is unavoidable (if looking in its direction of course). However, 見(み)られる is used when the onlooker, is trying to concentrate on some specific object, and is referring to their ‘ability’ to see it.
  • 部屋(へや)暗(くら)くし外(そと)見(み)たら、星(ほし)見(み)える
    If you make your room dark and look outside, you will see the stars. (Even without trying, you will see them)
  • 部屋(へや)暗(くら)くし外(そと)見(み)たら、星(ほし)が見(み)られる
    If you make your room dark and look outside, you will see the stars. (If you focus past the clouds, and give your eyes some time to adjust)
Fun Fact
見(み)える is also sometimes used to describe the ‘sense’ of sight, and refers to whether anything is visible at all for the speaker.
  • 若(わか)い時(とき)に大(おお)き怪我(けが)があったからなにも見(み)えない
    Because of a big injury when I was young, I cannot see.
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"Since that signboard is big, it can be seen from anywhere."
「富士山(ふじさん)とても大(おお)きいから遠(とお)くからでもよく 見(み)え!」
"Mount Fuji is very big, so it can be clearly seen even from afar!"
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone♪
[The sense of sight was blocked by heavy rain until now]
Tae Kim Japanese Grammar Guide
page 126
Genki II 2nd Edition
page 83
[DBJG] A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
page 243
page 32