Grammar Info

N4 Lesson 8: 7/18

れる・られる (Potential)

To be able, Can (Potential)

In Japanese, the potential is considered to be something beyond the control of a person.

Structure

Examples:
[る1]Verb() + られる(1)
[る5]Verb(すわ) + れる
[う]Verb(うた) + える
[く]Verb(ある) + ける
[す]Verb(はな) + せる
[つ]Verb() + てる
[ぬ]Verb() + ねる
[ぶ]Verb() + べる
[む]Verb(やす) + める
[ぐ]Verb(およ) + げる

Exceptions:
するできる

(1) ()れる、ら()言葉(ことば) (casual). Some may consider it not grammatical.

Details

  • Register

    Standard

  • 使用域

    一般

About れる・られる (Potential)

In addition to 'passive' verbs, れる and られる (the auxiliary verbs) are used when expressing possibility '可能(かのう)'.
られる will be attached to the base form of る-Verbs (the form after る has been removed). Note also that れる and られる themselves behave like standard る-Verbs, so can be conjugated into a variety of different tenses in the same way as a standard verb.
  • 明日(あした)までに(とど)られる
    Can you deliver it by tomorrow? (Natural Japanese, and may express 'potential', 'passivity', 'respect', or 'spontaneous occurrence')
  • 一人(ひとり)全部(ぜんぶ)()られる
    Can you eat all of this on your own? (Natural Japanese, and may express 'potential', 'passivity', 'respect', or 'spontaneous occurrence')
A common sight in modern Japanese is words where the ら may be removed, 'ラ()言葉(ことば)', and れる may be used by itself. However, this is not technically correct Japanese, and may cause confusion in cases where ら is required (with る-Verbs and くる, when られる is expressing 'passivity', 'respect', or 'spontaneous occurrence').
  • トムすぐに(あたら)文法(ぶんぽう)(おぼ)れる
    Tom is able to remember new grammar immediately. (Natural Japanese only when expressing 'potential', not 'passivity', 'respect', or 'spontaneous occurrence')
  • (かれ)なんでも()れる
    He can eat anything. (Natural Japanese only when expressing 'potential', not 'passivity', 'respect', or 'spontaneous occurrence')
For う-Verbs, they will behave a little differently. Instead of the final kana of the verb changing to an あ sound, and then adding れる (as would be the case with passive verbs), the final kana of the verb will change to an え sound (る will become れ, う will become え, す will become せ, etc.) before adding る.
  • この(うた)()ます
    Are you able to play this song?
  • この(いけ)色々(いろいろ)(さかな)()ます
    You can catch many kinds of fish in this lake.
Interestingly, する verbs do not have a 'potential' form, and the verb できる will be used in its place.
  • サリーほとんど漢字(かんじ)()ことができる
    Sally is able to write most kanji.
Caution
ことができる and られる (when used in its 'potential' meaning) have exactly the same nuance. However, many people consider ことができる to be slightly more polite.
Fun Fact
When using the potential form, either or may be used to mark the 'object'. You will need to be careful though, as this does not apply to できる, which may only ever use .
  • やっとシャワー()られる
    I can finally take a shower!
  • あなた(なに)()られる
    What can you eat?
  • トム日本語(にほんご)フランス()英語(えいご)(はな)ことができる
    Tom is able to speak Japanese, French, and English.

Examples

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  • あの(やま)()られます

    Can you see that mountain over there?

    • (わたし)夏休(なつやす)ごろ旅行(りょこう)()ける

      I can take a trip around summer vacation.

      • (わたし)(いもうと)100()漢字(かんじ)()ける

        My little sister is able to write 100 kanji.

        • 10(ぷん)()てます

          Can you wait 10 minutes?

          • (かれ)(ちから)(つよ)からあの(おも)テレビ(だい)一人(ひとり)()てます

            He is strong, so he can pick up that heavy TV stand by himself.

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            れる・られる (Potential) – Grammar Discussion