To Can, to Be Able To

There are different ways of expressing the idea that you can or able of doing something.

- koto ga dekiru  (-ことができる)

This form allows you to say that you are able to do something or that something is doable.

Watashi ha oyogu koto ga dekiru.   私は泳ぐことができる。   I can swim.

Koko de densha no kippu wo kau koto ga dekimasu. `ここで電車の切符を買うことができます。 Here, you can buy train tickets.

This is an easy way to express that idea.

The « kanou » form可能形

可能 means doable. So the verbs in this form express that someone or something can be done.

Here again, the verbs of the 3rd groups are different.

1st group

The rule to get to the form of the first group is easy :

You take the hiragana table, and you translate from the –i column to the –e column. You apply the change on the verb, and you have it. 

i – ki – shi – chi – ni – hi – mi – i – ri – i

e – ke – se – te – ne – he – me – e – re – e

Hikimasu                         Hikemasu

Oyogimasu                     Oyogemasu

Yomimasu                      Yomemasu

Asobimasu                      Asobemasu

Hashirimasu                   Hashiremasu     

Utaimasu                        Utaemasu  

Mochimasu                     Motemasu

Naoshimasu                    Naosemasu

2nd group

The rule for these verbs is even easier to apply, but often very complex to pronunciate correctly.

You have to take away the MASU and add RAREMASU.

Tatemasu                          Tateraremasu

Tabemasu                         Taberaremasu

Oboemasu                        Oboeraremasu

Orimasu                             Oriraremasu

3rd group

Shimasu                              Dekimasu

Kimasu                                Koraremasu

Examples of sentences

The Kanou form is always used with the particle GAが

Watashi ha hashi ga tsukaemasu.   私は箸がつかえます。I can use chopsticks.

Nihongo ga sukoshi wakarimasu.   日本語が少し分かります。I understand Japanese a little.

Kanji ga mada yomemasen.   漢字がまだ読めません。I can not yet read the kanji.

Mimasu 見ます and Kikimasu聞きます

These two verbs have two different forms that each has a different meaning.

Mimasu (I see) becomes Miraremasu (I can see) when you are expressing that someone has the possibiliy to see something. The subject is the person seeing, not the object.

Ex : Kare ha kowai eiga ga miraremasu. かれは怖い映画が見られます。  He can watch scary movies.

But Mimasu (I see) becomes Miemasu (It can be seen) when you want to express that someting is visible. The subject is the thing (or person) visible. It doesn’t depend on you if the thing is visible or not. The action is made towards you, not by you.

Ex : Uchi kara fujisan ga miemasu.  家から富士山が見えます。From the house you can see the mount Fuji (litterally « the mount Fuji is visible »).

       Watashi ha chiisai ji ga mienai.  私は小さい字が見えません。I can’t see the small letters.

The same goes for Kikimasu.

Ex :  Watashi ha rock ga kikemasu.  私はロクが聞けます。I can listen rock music.

        Neko no koe ga kikoemasen deshita. 猫の声が聞こえませんでした。I couldn’t hear the cat’s voice.


I hope the content of this page was useful to you, and that it helped you Japanese Grammar. Make sure to check our Learn Japanese page, which contains several lessons that might help you in your learning process.