Kanou Kei – Verbs in Potential Form in Japanese

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In Japanese, the ability to do a certain action is expressed by conjugating the verb. This is to indicate whether something is possible or not to be done. For this we use verbs in the potential form kanou kei [可能系].

As with most verb conjugations in the Japanese language, we convert a verb in dictionary form to potential form by modifying its ending.

See example sentence: I can't eat raw fish.

生の魚が食べられません。
nama no sakana ga taberaremasen

In the sentence we just saw, the verb [食べる] has turned into a negative potential [食べられません]. There are different ways and rules for transforming into the potential form. We will see?

We also recommend reading:

Verbs Ending in “U” [う]

To convert a verb ending in [U/う] into its potential form is simple. Just change the last syllable of the verb for one of the same family that ends with [E] followed by [RU], that is: [える/eru].

Examples:

The table below shows verbs ending in [U] being converted to the potential form. Always the potential form must be translated as: To achieve or To be able to do something (the verb in question).

VerbromajiMeaningV. PotentialRōmaji Pt.
読むYomuTo read 読めるYomeru
 話すHanasuSpeak 話せるHanaseru
 書くKakuTo write 書けるKakeru
 遊ぶAsobuPlay play 遊べるAsoberu
 待つMatsuWait 待てるMateru
 飲むNomuTo drink飲めるNomeru
 取る Torutake 取れるToreru
 死ぬ ShinakedTo die 死ねるShineru
 買う KauPurchase 買えるKaeru
 焼く YakuTo bake  焼けるYakeru
 学ぶ ManabuLearn 学べるManaberu
 抱く DakuTo hug抱けるDakeru
泳ぐ OyoguSwim 泳げるOyogeru

Such verbs also have their formal version. That instead of adding [RU], you should add {masu}. Here are some examples of the potential form [ます]:

  • 読む > 読める > 読めます
  • 撮る > 取れる > 取れます
  • 抱く > 抱ける > 抱けます
List of Japanese verbs – n5
Transforming Verbs into Japanese

Verbs Ending in “RU” (iru/eru)

For verbs ending in [いる] or [える], the only thing we need to do is replace the ending [る] with the ending [られる].

But be careful, in some informal conversations the ending may be ignored, or they may abbreviate and not say the [RE]. Example: [見る] in the potential form is [見られる], but in some rare conversations one might say [見れる].

In the negative form [られる] is replaced by [られない]. And the polite form exchanges [られる] for [られます].

The next table shows the conversion of verbs ending in [RU] to their potential form.

VerbromajiMeaningV. PotentialRōmaji Pt.
 食べるtaberu Eat食べられる taberaru
 着るKiru Wear着られる Kirareru
 信じるShinjiru Believe信じられる Shinjirareru
 寝るneru sleep寝られる nerareru
 起きるokuru Rise起きられる okirareru
 出るderu Let out出られる derareru
 掛けるKakeru Grab掛けられる Kakerareru
 調べるShiraberu To examine調べられる Shiraberareru
 見るMiru look/see見られる Mirareru
 開けるakeru Open開けられる akerareru
 落ちるOchiru To fall落ちられる Ochirareru
 遅れるokureru Delay遅れらせる okurerareru
 慣れるnareru get-used-to慣れられる narerareru

Irregular verbs

There are also irregular verbs that do not follow any specific rules to be transformed into the potential form. The best way to learn is to memorize the table below:

VerbromajiTranslationPotentialromaji
するSuruTo doできるdekiru
来る KuruCome over来られるkorareru
愛するAisuruLove愛できるaidekiru

Performing the conjugation

In sentences where the potential form is used, the object is more commonly followed by the particle が (ga) than by を (o/wo).

Example: Eating Meat / Getting Meat Eating;

niku wo taberu [肉を食べる]
niku ga taberareru [肉が食べられる]

Example 2: Read the book / I can/I can read the book;

hon wo yomu [本を読む]
hon wo yomeru [本が読める]

The way to conjugate the verb is quite simple. Just remember the rules and details. You can also use the formal [MASU] way as shown in the examples below:

She can't wake up at six;

彼女は六時に起きられません。 
Kanojo wa roku-ji ni oki raremasen

He manages to wake up at six;

彼は六時に起きれます。
Kare wa roku-ji ni oki remasu

We note that the Formal [ます] way of saying the sentence was used first, while in the second sentence we also used the abbreviation leaving aside the syllable [ら].

This was just a brief article on Verbs in their potential form. This doesn't mean that you can freely assemble sentences, there are a lot of related things that we haven't studied yet.

Let's wait for a next article to find other ways to express such sentences, and create some explanatory examples. Feel free to leave tips and suggestions for the next related article, or for us to add or correct something from this article.

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