Can do, able to do


In Japanese, conveying the ability to do something involves specific verbs and grammatical structures.

This guide focuses on how to express “can do” and “able to do” using the potential form of verbs, ensuring you can communicate your capabilities or ask about someone else’s effectively.

Understanding the Potential Form

The potential form is pivotal for indicating the capability or possibility of performing an action.

Here’s a closer look at its formation across different verb groups:

1. “う-verbs” Transformation to Potential Form

The potential form for “う-verbs” is created by changing the verb’s ending from “う” to “える.”

This rule is applied across “う-verbs,” making it a straightforward pattern to remember for expressing abilities.


  • “歌う” (utau – to sing) becomes “歌える” (utaeru – can sing).

  • “泳ぐ” (oyogu – to swim) becomes “泳げる” (oyogeru – can swim), showcasing a slight variation in the conjugation process due to the “ぐ” ending, but the principle of changing to “える” remains.

2. “る-verbs” Transformation to Potential Form

Replace the ending “る” with “られる” to express potentiality.


  • “見る” (miru – to see) transforms into “見られる” (mirareru – can see), indicating the ability to see something.

In casual or spoken Japanese, the “ら” in the “られる” potential form of “る-verbs” is frequently dropped for ease of pronunciation, particularly in the context of everyday conversation.

  • “見られる” (mirareru – can see) transforms into “見れる” (mireru – can see).

3. Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs in Japanese, namely “する” (to do) and “来る” (to come), have unique potential forms that deviate from the patterns seen in “う-verbs” and “る-verbs.”

The potential form “来られる” (korareru) is correct but can be colloquially contracted to “くる” (kuru) in casual conversation, mirroring the simplification seen with “られる” to “れる.”

Constructing Sentences

Utilizing the potential form in sentences allows for expressing and inquiring about abilities:

  • In Context:
    “彼は素早く走れますか?” (Kare wa hayaku hashiremasu ka? – Can he run fast?) This question specifically asks about the person’s ability to run quickly.

  • Expressing Lack of Ability:
    To denote inability, the potential form is negated.
    “私は辛いものを食べられない。” (Watashi wa karai mono o taberarenai. – I can’t eat spicy food.)

Tips for Effective Use

Contextual Usage:

Remember, the potential form is not just about physical ability but also permission.

Context will clarify whether you’re speaking about capability or asking for permission.

Politeness Levels:

Adjust the formality by using “ます” (masu) for polite contexts or the plain form for casual situations.

  • “私は毎日日本語を勉強します。” (Watashi wa mainichi Nihongo o benkyou shimasu. – I study Japanese every day.”

Nuanced Expressions:

Beyond basic ability, the potential form can express nuances such as ease or difficulty of actions.

Adding “やすい” (yasui – easy to) or “にくい” (nikui – difficult to) to the verb stem before the potential ending can convey these nuances.

  • “この字は読みやすいです。” (Kono ji wa yomiyasui desu. – This character is easy to read.)


Mastering the potential form in Japanese not only expands your ability to express what actions you can perform but also enhances your interactive communication by allowing you to inquire about others’ abilities.

Practice forming and using these structures in various contexts to navigate social and professional settings effectively.