Grammar detail: verb potential form

verb potential form - ability to do; can / cannot do
195 words
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The potential form of a verb expresses the ability to do the action the verb describes. Where in English 'can' or similar words are added to a verb to express ability ('I can run'), in Japanese the verb itself is modified.
The potential form is formed as follows:
  • For ichidan (る) verbs, replace the る with られる. For example:
    たべる eat ➜ たべられる can eat
  • For godan (う) verbs, replace the vowel in the last sound with the equivalent sound containing え, then add る. For example:
    よむ read ➜ よめる can read
    はなす speak ➜ はなせる can speak
  • There are a handful of irregular forms. For example:
    する do ➜ できる can do
    くる come ➜ こられる can come
    ある exist ➜ ありえる can exist
The potential form acts as a standard ichidan (る) verb. See our verb conjugation overview for more information. Typically, the potential form only makes sense with transitive verbs.
Note: since the potential and passive forms of ichidan verbs both end in られる, it is becoming increasingly common to drop the ら in the potential form. See ら抜き言葉(ranuki kotoba) for more details.
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