Wild Nihongo!


ことができる Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Phrase

Essential Meaning: Can do X / Able to do X / Doing X is possible


  • Verb informal nonpast + ことができる
    • E.g. はなすことができる [X can speak]
    • E.g. べることができる [X can eat]


  • ことができる is an alternative potential verb form. It expresses the idea that Noun X is able to do Verb Y. For example, both はしることができる and はしれる mean “X can run“. The only difference is that ことができる is slightly more formal than the potential verb form.
  • ことができる takes the XはYが structure, where X is the one who is able to do Y, and Y is the action that X is able to do.
    • E.g. マークははしることができる。[Mark can run.]
  • In specific cases where the object and verb are very closely associated, the verb + こと can be omitted.
    • E.g. クリスはピアノをくことができる。[Chris can play the piano.]
    • E.g. クリスはピアノができる。[Chris can play the piano.] The verb く [To play a stringed instrument] is clearly associated with the piano; what else would you be able to do with a piano? Because of this clear association, くこと can optionally drop.
    • E.g. スミスさんは日本語にほんご新聞しんぶんむことができる。[Mr. Smith can read Japanese newspapers.]
    • E.g. *スミスさんは日本語にほんご新聞しんぶんができる。[Mr. Smith can ~ Japanese newspapers.] む [To read] is not inextricably linked to Japanese newspapers. You can also write or buy Japanese newspapers, among other things. Therefore, むこと can not be omitted in this case.

Example Sentences:

田口たぐちさんは中国語ちゅうごくごはなすことができる。[Mr. Taguchi can speak Chinese.]

新幹線しんかんせんれば大阪おおさかまで三時間さんじかんくことができる。[If you ride the Shinkansen, you can go to Osaka in 3 hours.]

大田おおだむっつのときバッハをくことができた。[When Oda was 6, he could play Bach on the piano.]

ジョンソンさんは日本語にほんご手紙てがみくことができる。[Mr. Johnson can write letters in Japanese.]

WILD Examples:

Listen to this line from around 2:15: 臆病おくびょうかぜかれて波風なみかぜがたった世界せかいをどれだけあいすることができるだろう [I wonder to what extent we are able to love such a fearful and discordant world]
Listen to this line from 0:52: あなたがここにいてきしめることができるなら、わたしもうほかになにもらない [If it were the case that you’re able to be here and hold me tight, I wouldn’t need need anything else]

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