Grammar Info
N4 Lesson 8: 16/18

Can, Be able to

Verb + こと + + できる
Noun + + できる
Verb + こと + + できます
Noun + + できます
Register Standard
使用域 一般
Like ことがある, ことができる is an expression that nominalizes what comes before it (turns it into a noun-phrase), and then highlights something about that (A) phrase. In the case of ことができる, the thing being highlighted about (A) is that it is 'possible'. This translates as 'can do (A)', or 'to be able to do (A)'.
  • 魚(さかな)のように泳(およ)ことができるように毎日(まいにち)練習(れんしゅう)する
    I practice everyday so that I will be able to swim like a fish.
  • 彼(かれ)料理(りょうり)することができる
    He is able to cook.
However, こと is only required when the (A) phrase needs nominalization (is not a noun to begin with). Due to this, ができる may be used by itself when following a noun, without changing the meaning.
  • 運転(うんてん)ができる彼氏(かれし)が欲(ほ)しい
    I want a boyfriend that can drive.
  • 力仕事(ちからしごと)ができる人(ひと)探(さが)しています
    We are looking for a person that is able to do physical labor.
Fun Fact
のが (or のは) is also frequently used for nominalization, but this is rarely the case when a verb follows it. Some other expressions where のが may not be swapped for こと are as follows:
ことがある - For (A) to exist.
ことにする - To make something (A).
ことになる - For (A) to come to be.
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I can ride a horse.
Can you swim?
I was able to write kanji for the first time.
みんなの日本語 I
Page 116 [CH 18]
みんなの日本語 II
Page 18 [CH 27]
[DBJG] A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
Page 10 & 200
Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
Page 126