Suppose I wanted to say to someone, "Can you solve this question?" According to my Memrise app and some Google results, this is the model sentence:

(1) この問題が解けますか。

Since potential ("can") is involved, shouldn't the Japanese sentence be:

(2) この問題が解けられますか。

Perhaps the literal meaning of (1) is "Will this question be in a solved state?", similar to ドアがしまりますか。Is the (automatic, maybe) door going to be closed? Perhaps this literal meaning is widely taken to mean "Can you solve this question?"

I've asked a similar question about dictionary form vs potential form, but due to the limited context of that question, I would like to know if the dictionary form can be used as the potential form in general.

  • 1
    Related: "Unsolvable problem"
    – Flaw
    May 5, 2016 at 10:53
  • Thanks, that cleared things up a lot. Perhaps in general, the potential form of an intransitive verb shouldn't be used?
    – rhyaeris
    May 5, 2016 at 11:29
  • +1 A good question. I have never thought of.
    – user7644
    May 5, 2016 at 23:46
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Flaw
    May 6, 2016 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


(2) is unnatural because 解ける is the potential verb of 解く and it already means potential.

When 五段活用 verbs change to 下一段活用 verbs, they sometimes become potential verbs and they are called 可能動詞. In this case, a 五段活用 verb 解く changes to a 下一段活用 verb 解ける, and it becomes the potential verb of 解く.

  • 1
    Ah, I kept reading 解ける as an intransitive verb. So it seems that in this case 解ける is the potential form of the transitive verb 解く. Thanks!
    – rhyaeris
    May 5, 2016 at 11:28
  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user1478
    May 6, 2016 at 8:53

In summary

Although some dictionary forms happen to share an identical form as the potential form of another verb, the dictionary form of a verb cannot be used as the potential form.

As for 解けられる.

i. When it's combination of the potential form of 解く and られる voice, it's morphologically impossible.

ii. When it's combination of intransitive 解ける and られる voice

  1. potential: This time, it's morphologically possible but still ungrammatical because 解ける is not used as a volitional intransitive verb so far, in other words, it's always an involitional intransitive verb, which doesn't have the potential form to begin with.
  2. passive: It's fine. e.g. 氷に解けられては困る (We'll be in trouble if the ice melts)
  3. honorific: In theory possible, aside from weirdness. e.g. 人魚姫は海に溶けられた (Princess Mermaid melted into the sea)

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