The potential form of Japanese verbs

learn more about the potential form of Japanese verbs!

The strategy of using the expression ことができる it's just a way of expressing the ability to exercise a skill. That's why, ことができる it is considered a route of routine and informal use, aimed at more casual conversations.

The potential form of Japanese verbs

On occasions where we need to have some formality, the best way is to use the potential form of Japanese verbs. The big problem is that the potential form generates new verbs in the dictionary form. This means that these new verbs, now in the potential form, can be conjugated in the dictionary form and on masu shape, which is even more formal. I said it was the best way, I didn't say it was the easiest.

Creating verbs in potential form

When I talk about “creating verbs in the potential form” I'm talking about using existing grammatical rules to form these verbs, not creating Japanese verbs out of thin air. Don't get me wrong, okay?

The first thing we will have to do is separate Japanese verbs into groups, since the potential form of Japanese verbs is different for each group.

If you need to remember, or do not know the rules for dividing Japanese verbs into groups, I suggest reading the article “Japanese verbs and their groups“.

The potential form of u verbs

When it comes to verbs ending in , the first group of verbs, the formation of the potential mood is not so complicated, although it varies according to the ending of each verb.

A general rule is to always replace the last syllable of the verb with the syllable of the same family as the verb. hiragana containing the letter “e”, and adding the extension  in the end.

Thus, if the verb ends with the syllable , we exchange  per める. if it ends with , we exchange the  per てる and so on.


書く will come 書ける

話す will come 話せる

買う will come 買える

The potential form of the verbs iru and eru

For verbs ending in いる or える, the second group of verbs, the only thing we need to do is replace the ending  by termination られる.


見る will come 見られる

食べる will come 食べられる

Be careful

In many cases, termination  this group of verbs can be simply ignored. Thus, verbs like 見る can take the form 見れる, rather than 見られる. It is worth remembering that this type of modification usually occurs in informal conversations and occasionally.

The potential form of irregular verbs

For the group of irregular verbs, as always, there is no rule. We have to decorate on the sly. Below is the conjugation of the two most common irregular verbs.


する will come できる

来る will come 来られる

Performing the verb conjugation of the potential form

Note that the potential form described above is equivalent to the simple present tense form of Japanese verbs. Therefore, they can be conjugated in both the simple form and the masu form of Japanese verbs. Sound complicated? Not so much.

Just follow the same conjugation rules to place the verbs we learn today in other verb tenses, either in masu form or dictionary form. For example, the verb 話せる in negative mode of simple form turns 話せない and in the negative mode of the masu form, it becomes 話せません.

I think it's because of this huge variation in conjugations that the potential form of verbs in Japanese becomes so confusing. For me today, this is not as complicated as it used to be. And I hope for you, too.

If it's interesting, check out the article on Japanese verbs in the informal mood, and in the article about the masu form of verbs in japanese, and try to conjugate some of the verbs in this article in the potential form. This can help to clarify ideas.

Using the Potential Form of Japanese Verbs

In the sentences below, note that there is no mystery about how to use Japanese verbs in the potential form, expressing the ability to be able to do something. Just conjugate the verb in the proper form and add it to the end of Japanese sentences.

Because it expresses a capacity or state rather than an action, many grammars teach that potential form has no direct object. Thus, the general rule is to use the particle  before the verb, where the particle would usually be seen .





Although this rule guides the non-use of the particle , I ended up finding phrases with her in my studies. Through the contribution of Japanese Language readers, I ended up discovering that this case may be related to aru's syncope.

I still can't explain how this happens, but when a potential verb is the main verb of the sentence, it can lose the sense of having capacity, passing the idea of a common verb. In cases like this, the particle  would go back to being used normally.

Note that this is just a theory. Unfortunately I still haven't been able to confirm whether this is correct or not. Therefore, I advise you to continue following the rule above, always using the particle  before verbs in the potential form. If so many people recommend not using the particle  in sentences with these types of verbs, it's because there must be a reason, and that's the rule I'm following at the moment.

If any reader knows of something that can clarify this issue, feel free to get in touch and contribute. Right? Also, if it's not too much to ask, I'd like references or links on where to find more information on the subject. During my studies, if I discover anything, I will update this article again.

Below are some examples of sentences that should be wrong, but that I found while researching the potential form of verbs in Japanese.





I hope I got to be clear in this article.

More articles on the potential form of Japanese verbs:


Verbs – Potential Form – 可能形 – Kanou Kei

Kanji calligraphy exercise

Below are the Japanese ideographic symbols used in this article. Selecting the desired kanji, copy and paste them into Worksheet for Kana and Kanji Practice , a new window will open where you can view the printable file and practice Japanese calligraphy by covering the gray symbols and then trying to write yourself. Just print and practice.