dekiru and -rareru : When you have the basics down, expanding your vocabulary and learning new sentences/phrases is the next step. For this blog, we will focus on how to talk about expressing ability and potential by learning about two(or three) new, very useful phrases. Strap in, and get ready to learn TODAY!

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dekiru and -rareru : Expressing ability and inability in Japanese

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For people who plan on going to Japan for a holiday, these phrases are quite useful! Talking about ability in a foreign country is one of the most useful things to learn. This can be applied to questions about the ability to speak a language, ability to read something, things you can and cannot eat, and so much more! Honestly, it can be used in important occasions, so make sure you utilize and study these phrases appropriately!

Verb(casual form) + koto ga dekiru

Firstly, let’s talk about the main sentence pattern we use for a sentence that talks about an action. We usually use the Noun + verb pattern for it as shown below. 

Watashi wa sushi wo tabemasu.
I eat sushi.

This sentence pattern expresses an action but doesn’t necessarily talk about the ability to do so. The sentence/phrase we are about to discuss will be talking about the ability or capacity to do something. Here is the same sentence using ーことができる, changing the sentence meaning to being able to do the action. We simply take the verb in it’s casual form (in this case 食べます/tabemasu=食べる/taberu)and add ーことができる/-koto ga dekiru after. If you want to sound a bit more formal, you can use ーことができます/-koto ga dekimasu instead. This will act as the end of your sentence.

Watashi wa sushi wo taberu koto ga dekiru.
I CAN eat sushi.

Lets focus on the same sentence and try expressing the inability to do something. In this situation, let’s say you are a vegetarian and therefore cannot eat sushi. When trying to express the inability to do something, we simply take the verb in it’s casual form (in this case 食べます/tabemasu=食べる/taberu) again and add ーことができない/-koto ga dekinai after and might also signify the end of your sentence. To sound a bit more formal, you can use ーことができません/-koto ga dekimasen instead. Here is the same sentence again but this time, we will express the inability to do the verb.

Watashi wa sushi wo taberu koto ga dekinai.
I CANNOT eat sushi.

In the situation where you want to talk in past tense, the usual rules apply where できる(dekiru)ー>できた(dekita)、できます(dekimasu)ー>できました(dekimashita)、できない(dekinai)ー>できなかった(dekinakatta)、できません(dekimasen)ー>できませんでした(dekimasendeshita)。Here is the same sentence as above, but talking about it in the past tense. 

Watashi wa sushi wo taberu koto ga dekita.
I WAS ABLE TO eat sushi.

Here are a few more examples of sentences that talk about the ability to do verbs in their respective sentences.

EnglishRomajiJapanese (formal and informal)
I can speak English.Watashi wa eigo wo hanasu koto ga dekiru.私は英語を話すことができる。
I can ride a bike.Watashi wa jitensha wo noru koto ga dekimasu.私は自転車を乗ることができます。
I was able to take a photo.Watashi wa shashin wo toru koto ga dekita.私は写真を撮ることができた。
I cannot speak Japanese.Watashi wa nihongo wo hanasu koto ga dekinai.私は日本語が話すことができない。
I cannot drive a car.Watashi wa kuruma wo untensuru koto ga dekimasen.私は車を運転することができません。
I was not able to swim.Watashi waoyogukotoga dekinakatta.私は泳ぐことができなかった。

Expressing potential by using the可能形 (kanokei) form

For this sentence/phrase, it can both talk about the potential and ability to do a verb. It’s not as straightforward as the sentence pattern above, but as long as you follow the rules below, you will be able to use it in no time. Be sure to practice!

Use GA instead of WO

Before we start with the verb rules, always remember that when you are talking about potential, you would need to use ga instead of wo to connect your verb and noun. 

Watashi wa sushi ga taberareru.
I CAN eat sushi.

Group 1 verb rule (Verb u -> Verb eru )

As you can see from the title above, it’s a verb that ends with an -u sound in its casual form and you simply change the -u to -eru. Here are a few examples:

EnglishDictionary form (informal)Potential form(informal)Potential form (formal)
Read -> Can readよむ (yomu)よめる (yomeru)よめます (yomemasu)
Go -> Can goいく (iku)いける (ikeru)いけます (ikemasu)
Swim -> Can swimおよぐ (oyogu)およげる (oyogeru)およげます (oyogemasu)
Drink -> Can drinkのむ (nomu)のめる (nomeru)のめます (nomemasu)
Speak -> Can speak話す (hanasu)話せる (hanaseru)話せます (hanasemasu)

Group 2 verb rule ( Verb ru -> Verb rareru)

From the title above again, its a verb that ends with a -ru sound in its casual form and we just change it the -ru to rareru. Here are a few examples:

EnglishDictionary form (informal)Potential form (informal)Potential form (formal)
Eat -> Can eat食べる (taberu)食べられる (taberareru)食べられます (taberaremasu)
Sleep -> Can sleep寝る (neru)寝られる (nerareru)寝られます (neraremasu)
Leave -> Can leave出る (deru)出られる (derareru)出られます (deraremasu)
Wake up-> Can wake up起きる (okiru)起きられる (okirareru)起きられます(okiraremasu)
Believe -> Can believe信じる (shinjiru)信じられ (shinjirareru)信じられます(shinjiraremasu)

Irregular verbs

There are only two irregular verbs so just memorise it!

EnglishDictionary form (informal)Potential form
Come -> Can comeくる (kuru)こられる (korareru)
Do -> Can doする (suru)できる (dekiru)

Asking about ability and potential

Ability: Verb(casual form) + koto ga dekimasu + ka ?

This is a very good sentence to ask people for importance and also for casual conversations. It’s also quite easy to do because you just add -ka to our original sentence to make it a question! Let’s use the sentence above as a reference, yet again.

Sushi wo taberu koto ga dekimasu ka?
Can (you) eat sushi?

For past tense questions, the same rules apply where できる(dekiru)ー>できた(dekita)、できます(dekimasu)ー>できました(dekimashita)、できない(dekinai)ー>できなかった(dekinakatta)、できません(dekimasen)ー>できませんでした(dekimasendeshita) and just add a -ka at the end to make it a question. 

Sushi wo taberu koto ga dekimashitaka?
Were you able to eat sushi?

Potential: Verb potential form (formal) + ka?

This is also quite easy to do because you just follow the formula above to make a sentence! 

Sushi ga taberaremasuka?
CAN (you) eat sushi?
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Japanese Particles も Mo and と To
Japanese particle ga (が) marks the subject of the sentence