Wild Nihongo!
られる / える (Potential Form)

られる / える (Potential Form)

られる / える (Potential Form) Japanese Grammar Lesson

Grammar Type: Auxiliary Verb

Essential Meaning: Able to do X / Can do X / X can be done

Construction: 

  • Group 1 Verbs: Conditional Form + る
    • E.g. はなせる [X can speak]
  • Group 2 Verbs: Verb Stem + られる
    • E.g. べられる [X can eat]
  • Irregular Verbs:
    • 来る = られる [X can come]
    • する = 出来でき [X can do]

Notes:

  • This is the potential verb form, which translates to “Can do X” or “Able to do X“. In other words, it expresses the idea that one has the potential to do something or that something has the potential to be done.
  • When a potential sentence contains an experiencer, the sentence often takes the XはYが construction where X is the experiencer and Y is the thing that can be done. Note that Y (the thing that can be done) can also be marked by を (Direct Object) most of the time, with the difference being that を (Direct Object) tends to indicate a higher level volition than . So if the sentence indicates a strong sense of choice / volition on the part of the experiencer, を (Direct Object) is the appropriate particle to mark object Y.
    • E.g. わたしはやめようとおもえばいつでもいま仕事しごとをやめられる。[If I feel that I want to quiet, I can quit my job at any time.] In this example, the speaker has the volitional choice to quit or not to quit, so を (Direct Object) is the appropriate particle.
    • E.g. ぼくはやっとのおもいで自分じぶんをおさえられた。[I was barely able to control my emotions.] Controlling one’s emotions implies volition, so を (Direct Object) is an appropriate choice in this case.
  • With できる (the potential form of する), the object always takes the particle.
    • E.g. わたしはチェスができる。[I can play chess.]
  • を (Space) and を (Origin Of Movement) can not be replaced by when the predicate is a potential form verb.
    • E.g. わたしはあの公園こうえんよる一人ひとりあるけない。[I can’t walk through the park alone at night.] This is an example of を (Space). It cannot be replaced by .
    • E.g. このみちくつをはかずにあるけますか。[You can walk on this street without wearing shoes.] みちを is an example of を (Space). It cannot be replaced by .
    • E.g. 今日きょうはうちをられません。[I can’t leave my house today.] This is an example of を (Origin Of Movement). It cannot be replaced by .
  • If the experiencer is irrelevant or is obvious from context, he or she can be omitted and the object of the action can be marked wth the particle. If the object of the action were instead marked with , it would imply that the object is the experiencer.
    • E.g. このめない。[I can’t read this character.] It’s obvious from context that the speaker is the experiencer.
    • E.g. *このめない。[This character is unable to read] implies that the character has personal agency, which is nonsensical.
    • E.g. このみずめない。[You can’t drink this water.] In this example, the experiencer is irrelevant; what matters is that the water is undrinkable.
  • Non-volitional verbs such as かる [To understand], [To need], ある [To exist], く [To open], and くさる [To rot] are not used in the potential form.
  • Potentiality can also be expressed using the ことができる construction rather than the normal られる / れる conjugation. The difference is that ことができる is more formal.
    • E.g. わたしはピアノをひくくことができます。[I can play the piano.]
  • The potential verb endings られる / える conjugate as Group 2 verbs ( e.g. はなせる, はなせない, はなせて, はなせた, et cetera).
  • In informal conversation, Group 2 verbs can be conjugated as Verb Stem + れる (i.e. the ら can be dropped).
    • E.g. チーズケーキがべられない。[I can’t eat cheesecake.]
    • E.g. チーズケーキがべれない。[I can’t eat cheesecake.] This is the informal version with ら dropped.

Example Sentences:

わたし日本語にほんごめる。[I can read Japanese.]

このみずめない。[This water is undrinkable.]

ブラウンさんは刺身さしみべられない。[Mr. Brown can’t eat sashimi.]

寺田てらださんはテニスが出来できる。[Terada-san can play tennis.]

このめない。[I can’t read this character.]

WILD Examples:

At ~:20, you can hear the lyric: こんなにたくさんべれません[I can’t eat this much.] Note that the ら in べられません has been informally dropped.
At 1:44, the following line appears: ボロつりざおですぎる。[You are able to catch an excessive number (of Koiking) with an old fishing rod.]
This sign says 利用りよういただけません [Not usable]. いただけません is a negative potential form of いただく.
Listen to this line at 3:03: かなしいことがあったって、今日きょうわればわすれられる [Even if there are sad things, you can forget about them at the end of the day]

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