I could not help but notice that adjectives cannot directly conjugate to have a potential form:

E.g. 赤い does not become 赤られる for (can be red)

(Question) Which of the below are acceptable forms to convey a potential for adjectives? What about な-adjectives?:

  • 赤く出来る (using potential-form of する)

  • 赤くなれる (using potential-form of なる) (This seems to mean "can become red" which is so very different from "can be red")

  • EDIT: 赤いがなり得る (I found this construction, I'm not sure what it does and how different it is from 赤くなれる and 赤くなり得る)

  • 赤いことができる (Using the sentence pattern ~ことができる)

I also thought about using the copula but there isn't any potential form for だ/です. Unless it's であられる?

  • Would 赤いであられる make sense for "can be red" ?
  • 1
    I'd personally write 「赤い可能性がある」 ("red is a possibility")
    – cypher
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 13:41
  • なる/なれる means a lot more than "to become"... and is often a lot more natural than です/ある to express a potential state of being.
    – Dave
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 14:13
  • @cypher That only conveys possibility. What about ability?
    – Flaw
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 2:03
  • I'm not sure, but 赤くいられる sounds possible to me (I don't know if that's valid or not, but searching Google you can find examples of it, e.g. 雪の下でも赤くいられる実 presumably meaning "the fruit is able to be red even under the snow") I'm just taking punts here, I don't really know for sure :P
    – cypher
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 2:22
  • 赤くできる gets the most results of the queries I tried, 赤く可能 (possible to be red), 赤く能力 (ability to be red), even 赤く機能 (the feature of being able to be red?) also sound plausible to me.
    – cypher
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 3:10

1 Answer 1


It depends on what you mean by “potential form.”

Both れる/られる and ことができる are attached to a verb and their basic meaning is “have the ability to do.” (れる/られる has very different meanings such as passive and respect, but I ignore them for the purpose of this answer.) Because they are about the ability, the subject is usually animate.

The combination of ある+られる would be あられる, but this combination is ungrammatical for a reason I do not know.

Although the meaning of れる/られる/ことができる has large overlap with the meaning of “can” in English, it does not cover the usage of “can” in “can be red” (= may be red; possibly be red).

“Possibly” can be translated as “~可能性がある” as cypher wrote in a comment, or “~かもしれない.” Therefore, “can be red” is 赤い可能性がある or 赤いかもしれない. Although 可能性がある and かもしれない are not completely the same, I am not prepared to explain the difference now.

Below I will try to explain whether each of your examples is grammatical or not and what its meaning is.

  • 赤くする is “redden (something),” and 赤くできる (or 赤く出来る, although できる in this usage is usually written in hiragana) is “have the ability of redden (something).”
  • 赤くなれる is “have the ability to turn red,” but I do not know when it can be used.
  • 赤くなりうる is “possibly turn red.” Unlike 可能性がある and かもしれない, [得]{う}る in this meaning can be only attached to a verb.
  • 赤いがなり得る is ungrammatical because 赤いがなる is ungrammatical.
  • 赤いことができる is ungrammatical because ことができる can be only attached to a verb as I wrote above.
  • 赤いであられる is ungrammatical for two reasons: 赤いである is ungrammatical, and the combination あられる is somehow ungrammatical as I wrote above.
  • I chose 赤い because it was the first adjective to appear in my mind. So I used to to represent all い-adjectives. If you find it better to use other adjectives to explain then it would be good. I'm not expecting answers to be restricted to 赤い. If you could provide some examples of common usage of each case it would be great. Thanks =D
    – Flaw
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 8:24
  • @Flaw: That is beyond both my ability and my time constraint. For example, there are at least two meanings for adjective+する and probably more, and there are too many possible ways to turn adjective+する into something related potential for me to explain. Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 15:22
  • Perhaps when you get the inspiration to furnish your answer then. I'll look forward to that. Until then your current answer will have to do.
    – Flaw
    Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 15:33
  • @Flaw: Or when someone else posts a more comprehensive answer. I look forward to that. :) Commented Nov 20, 2011 at 15:43

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