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Potential Form : Expressing Ability

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

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こんにちは, Japanese Learner’s! Welcome back to Teach Me Japanese.

Today we are going to be discussing potential form in Japanese. Knowing

potential form allows you to express your ability to do certain things in Japanese.

In English, it is the equivalent of inserting “can” before a verb. (i.e. can drive, can

eat, can swim)

Without further ado, let’s get into the lesson!

Ru-verbs conjugate by replacing with られる.

Though that is the original, correct way to conjugate ru-verbs into potential form,

these days many people drop and simply replace with れる.

Let’s make some example sentences using the potential form of verbs. When

using sentence structure “object を potential verb”, you can opt to use instead

of . This doesn’t change the meaning.

A ru-verb in potential form still functions as a ru-verb. So to make it negative or turn

it into masu from, all you have to do is drop the final and add the appropriate


*If you need a refresher you can check out our post on masu form here and

our post on negative form here*

As was the same case in our te-form lesson, the conjugation of u-verbs depends

on the ending syllable.

Let’s look at some examples of sentences using u-verbs in their potential forms.

When changed into potential form, u-verbs also act like ru-verbs. Therefore

making them negative is as simple as replacing with ない ・ません.

The irregular verbs くる and する each have their own different rules when it

comes to conjugating to potential form.

If you remember when we did our lesson on negative form, くる conjugated

negatively as こない. In potential form we keep the , but swap for られる.

To make it negative you simply replace with ない・ません.

In potential form the irregular verb する becomes できる. The particle changes

from to .

And of course is made negative by replacing with ない・ません.

Verbs ending in する, such as 勉強する(べんきょうする), are known as suru

verbs. They combine nouns and the verb suru to create a new verb. Since する in

potential form is できる, all you need to do to change suru verbs into the potential

form is to replace する with できる・できます.

Let’s look at some examples of practical use.

You can make できる negative by dropping and adding ない・ません.

Like the verb する, できる does not require an object for use.

できる is different from other potential form verbs because its meaning can

change depending on context.

Replacing with から means that something was made, or came to be, out of

something else.

You can also use the plain form of a verb + ことができる to express ability to do

an action. The meaning is the same as if you were to just use the potential form of

the verb. For Example:

Means the exact same thing as :

We will make a whole separate lesson including all of the uses of できる in the near



And that wraps up today’s grammar lesson! If you have any questions or anything you would like for us to expand on, please leave your comments down below or visit our contact page to shoot us an email!

As always, がんばってね!


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