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
Casual
Polite
Examples:
[る1]Verb → 見 + られる(1)
[る5]Verb → 座 + れる
[う]Verb → 歌 + える
[く]Verb → 歩 + ける
[す]Verb → 話 + せる
[つ]Verb → 打 + てる
[ぬ]Verb → 死 + ねる
[ぶ]Verb → 飛 + べる
[む]Verb → 休 + める
[ぐ]Verb → 泳 + げる

Exceptions:
するできる

(1) 見れる、ら抜き言葉 (casual). Some may consider it not grammatical.
Examples:
[る1]Verb → 見 + られます(1)
[る5]Verb → 座 + れます
[う]Verb → 歌 + えます
[く]Verb → 歩 + けます
[す]Verb → 話 + せます
[つ]Verb → 打 + てます
[ぬ]Verb → 死 + ねます
[ぶ]Verb → 飛 + べます
[む]Verb → 休 + めます
[ぐ]Verb → 泳 + げます

Exceptions:
するできます

(1) 見れます、ら抜き言葉 (casual). Some may consider it not grammatical.
Details
Register Standard
使用域 一般
Information
In addition to ‘passive’ verbs, れる and られる (the auxiliary verbs) are used when expressing 可能(かのう) ‘possibility’.
られる will be attached to the base form of る-Verbs (the form after る has been removed).
  • 明日(あした)までに届(とど)けられる
    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)食(た)べられる
    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 ラ抜(ぬ)き言葉(ことば) (words where the ら may be removed, 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’).
  • トムすぐに新(あたら)し文法(ぶんぽう)覚(おぼ)えれる
    Tom is able to remember new grammar immediately. (Natural Japanese only when expressing ‘potential’, not ‘passivity’, ‘respect’, or ‘spontaneous occurrence’)
  • 彼(かれ)なんでも食(た)べれる
    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.
  • この歌(うた)弾(ひ)けます
    Are you able to play this song?
  • この池(いけ)色々(いろいろ)魚(さかな)釣(つ)れます
    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)書(か)くことができる
    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 .
  • やっとシャワー浴(あ)びられる
    I can finally take a shower!
  • あなた何(なに)食(た)べられる
    What can you eat?
  • トム日本語(にほんご)フランス語(ご)英語(えいご)話(はな)すことができる
    Tom is able to speak Japanese, French, and English.
Slow Male
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あの山(やま)見(み)られます
Can you see that mountain over there?
Play  
私(わたし)夏休(なつやす)みごろ旅行(りょこう)行(い)ける
I can take a trip around summer vacation.
Play  
私(わたし)妹(いもうと)100字(じ)漢字(かんじ)書(か)ける
My little sister is able to write 100 kanji.
Play  
Books
Genki II 2nd Edition
Page 30
みんなの日本語 II
Page 18 [CH 27]
[DBJG] A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar
Page 8 & 370
Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
Page 123