Potential Form 可能形 (kanoukei) & dekiru -
Intermediate Lessons: 5

You may have come across potential form (or potential verb) in Japanese if you are at the intermediate level. It's one of the 2 ways to express ability and possibility to do something in Japanese. Another way is to convert a verb into its noun-form and append ができる (ga dekiru) to it.

It's very simple to convert a Japanese verb into its noun-form. To do that, simply append こと(koto) to the dictionary-form of any verb. For example, 話す (hanasu) becomes 話すこと (hanasu koto), 読む (yomu) becomes 読むこと (yomu koto).

By appending ができる (ga dekiru) to a noun or a verb in its noun-form, as shown in the following sentence patterns, you can express the ability and possibility of performing an action.

A. Noun ができる (Noun ga dekiru)
B. Verb + こと ができる (Verb+koto ga dekiru)

Note: Only noun that is able to connect with する (suru) verb can be used here.

Let's use some examples to show how to use the above sentence patterns...

A. Using Noun ができる

  1. 私はテニスをします。
    watashi wa tenisu wo shimasu
    Meaning: I play tennis. (action to play tennis)


    watashi wa tenisu ga dekimasu
    Meaning: I can play tennis. (ability to play tennis)

  2. 私はスキーをします。
    watashi wa suki- wo shimasu
    Meaning: I ski. (action to ski)


    watashi wa suki- ga dekimasu
    Meaning: I can ski. (ability to ski)

B. Using Verb + こと ができる

  1. 私は日本語を話します。
    watashi wa nihongo wo hanshimasu
    Meaning: I speak Japanese. (action to speak Japanese)


    watashi wa nihongo wo hanasu koto ga dekimasu
    Meaning: I can speak Japanese. (ability to speak Japanese)

  2. ここで写真を撮ります。
    koko de shashin wo torimasu
    Meaning: I take photo here. (action to take photo)


    koko de shashin wo toru koto ga dekimasu
    Meaning: I can take photo here. (possibility to take photo)

Japanese Potential form or 可能形 (kanoukei)

To express ability or possibility, we have one more expression... Potential verb or Potential form. The meaning of "can" has already been included in the verb without using できる.

Rules for Changing Dictionary-form to Potential-form

The following are the rules for the 3 groups of Japanese verbs.

Group 1 Verbs

Group 1 verbs always end up with words containing u-sound. To change group 1 verbs to potential-form, change the u-sound to e-sound in the last word. After that append る (ru) to the changed words and you will get the potential-form of the verb.

For example, this group 1 verb よむ (yomu) ends up with む (mu). If you change the u-sound to e-sound, む (mu) becomes め (me). Adding る (ru) at the end, you will get よめる (yomeru).

Let's look at one more example, this group 1 verb はしる (hashiru) ends up with る (ru). If you change the u-sound to e-sound, る (ru) becomes れ (re). Adding る (ru) at the end, you will get はしれる (hashireru).

Group 2 Verbs

Changing group 2 verbs from dictionary-form to potential-form is much simpler. All group 2 verbs end up with る (ru). To change to potential-form, simply replace る (ru) with られる (rareru) and you will get the potential-form of the verb.

For example, this Japanese verb たべる (taberu) is a group 2 verb. To change to potential-form, replace る (ru) with られる (rareru) and you will get たべられる (taberareru).

I will use another example to show the change. This group 2 verb ねる (neru) means go to bed. Change る (ru) to られる (rareru) and you will get ねられる (nerareru).

Group 3 Verbs

Group 3 verbs are irregular verbs. You just have to memorize them. The potential-form of くる (kuru) is こられる (korareru) and the potential-form of する (suru) is できる (dekiru).

In summary, the following diagram shows the rules when changing dictionary-form to potential-form for Japanese verbs.

Japanese Verbs: change dict-form to potential-form

So you have 2 ways to express the meaning of ability or possibility in Japanese. For example, the following 2 sentences mean the same thing... "I can speak Japanese".

  • 私は日本語を話すことができます。
    watashi wa nihongo wo hanasu koto ga dekimasu

  • 私は日本語話せます。
    watashi wa nihongo ga hanasemasu

Note: When using potential form, you have to change the particle from を (wo) to が (ga). This was what I were taught by my teacher in the beginning. However, I later found out that this is not always the case. Depending on situations, を (wo) can also be used. We were told to use が (ga) because our teacher didn't want us to be confused when we were first learning the potential form. So in this lesson, I will still use が (ga) for the particle.

And since all potential verbs are Group 2 verbs, it's easy to change a potential verb to its other forms. Following the rules for group 2 verbs,

  • masu-form : る -> ます
  • ta-form : る -> た
  • nai-form : る -> ない
  • nakatta-from : る -> なかった

For example, using the potential verb 話せる (hanaseru), which means "can speak"...

  • masu-form : 話せる -> 話せます
  • ta-form : 話せる -> 話せた
  • nai-form : 話せる -> 話せない
  • nakatta-from : 話せる -> 話せなかった

Potential verbs can also be applied to the polite style. Using the same example,

  • Present Affirmative : 話せる -> 話せます
  • Present Negative : 話せる -> 話せません
  • Past Affirmative : 話せる -> 話せました
  • Past Negative : 話せる -> 話せませんでした

More Examples on Using Potential form and dekiru

Let's practise using both ways to express ability or possibility with more examples...

  1. 兄は泳ぐことができます。
    ani wa oyogu koto ga dekimasu
    ani wa oyogemasu

    Meaning: My elder brother can swim.

  2. 母は日本料理を作ることができます。
    haha wa nihon ryouri wo tsukuru koto ga dekimasu
    haha wa nihon ryouri ga tsukuremasu

    Meaning: My mother can cook Japanese dish.

  3. 弟は自転車に乗ることができます。
    otouto wa jitensha ni noru koto ga dekimasu
    otouto wa jitensha ni noremasu

    Meaning: My younger brother can ride the bicycle.

  4. 明日パーティーに行くことができません。
    ashita pa-ti- ni iku koto ga dekimasen
    ashita pa-ti- ni ikemasen

    Meaning: I can't go to the party tommorrow.

  5. 昨日晩御飯を食べることができませんでした。
    kinou bangohan wo taberu koto ga dekimasendeshita
    kinou bangohan ga taberaremasendeshita

    Meaning: I couldn't eat dinner yesterday.

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