I'm going through a Nintendo DS instruction manual and trying to do a bit of translation. I'd like to ask about the difference between 遊びます and 遊べます。

本ゲームは、 ボタン操作とタッチスクリーン操作の どちらでも遊べます。

I'm sure this is "you can play using both the buttons and the touch screen". Is this a simple rule? I can change a verb -masu form from 'bi' to 'be' (for example) to become "can"?

I am certain I've seen this elsewhere, the changing of 'i' to 'e'

本が 読みます - The book is read
先生が本を読めます - The teacher reads the book

I'm a bit confused as to how/when this changes.

  • You don't have to type a space after in Japanese. It has a space built-in. – snailboat Sep 25 '15 at 19:19
  • "The book is read" is 「本が読まれます」(the れ is passive). "The teacher reads the book" would be 先生が本を読ます (or 先生が本を読まれます (the れ is honorific)). – Chocolate Sep 26 '15 at 5:50


1 - Godan verbs.

The potential form of the Godan verbs is constructed by changing the /u/ sound to /e/ and adding る :

読む → 読める ; 帰る → 帰れる ; 買う → 買える

It's actually a contraction of 読まれる, 帰られる and 買われる which are now only used as the passive form (I think).

2 - Ichidan verbs.

The potential form of the Ichidan verbs is constructed like the passive form by adding られる to the stem (verb at it's simple form minus る) :

食べる → 食べられる ; 忘れる → 忘れられる

The contracted forms 食べれる and 忘れれる, though widely used, is not considered gramaticaly correct.

3 - Irregular verbs.

Watchout for ある which have a different kind of potential form.

来る → 来られる ; する → 出来る{できる}

II - Meaning

1 - Potential.

忘れられない人。 Someone unforgettable.

世界大戦が起これる。 A world war can happen.

2 - Capacity

犬は泳げる。 Dogs know how to swim.

ついに私は読める! I'm finally able to read.

III - Expressions with similar meaning.

1 - ことができる.

Verb (simple form) + ことができる has the same meaning as the potential form (potential + capacity).

飛ぶことができると思います。 I believe I can fly.

2 - 得る{える} and 得る{うる}.

Verb stem + える (literary) or うる (more literary) has the meaning of potential but not capacity. It's also the only potential form of ある.


Something that stupid can't exist!


Glass can break under pressure.

IV - Regarding the particles and your examples.

The basic sentence is (neutral and polite) :

私は本を読む。 私は本を読みます。 I read a book.

The passive form isn't 本が読みます* but :

私に(は)本が読まれる。 私に(は)本が読まれます。 The book is read by me. (unnatural)

The gramatical subject of the potential verb in japanese isn't the one being able to do but the thing that can be done :

私(に)は本が読める。私(に)は本が読めます。 I can read a book. (Litteraly) The book can be read by me.

Due to the influence of the occidental languages, and mainly english, you can also find が (insisting on the object "the book") replaced by を (insisting on the action "to read").

The difference between が and を with the potential form of a verb.

  • 3
    世界大戦が起これる is not valid. (ら)れる only stands for ability or right. – user4092 Sep 25 '15 at 14:03
  • And the meaning of 本ゲームは、 ボタン操作とタッチスクリーン操作の どちらでも遊べます ? – VictorySaber Sep 25 '15 at 14:04
  • @VictorySaber : Your translation seems correct to me : "This game can be played using both the buttons and the touch screen." – Alox Sep 25 '15 at 14:29
  • 5
    I'd say「世界大戦が起こりうる」 and 「世界大戦は起こりえない」 – Chocolate Sep 25 '15 at 14:39
  • 1
    I mean right as in human right or right to purchase it. The subject for (ら)れる must be things that can move by themselves. It's the same criteria to choose いる or ある. In other words, plants are not able to take potential verbs in ordinary people's sense. @VictorySaber 本ゲーム is the object of 遊べる. The subject of the sentence is you. – user4092 Sep 25 '15 at 17:12

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