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This is my first post here, so thanks for reading this.

I have looked through other threads, and there doesn't seem to be an answer to my specific case, so please let me give this a shot:

I am trying to say "I can drive a car".

My two basic ideas are:

  1. 車 を うんてん できる
  2. 車 を うんてん することができる

But I somehow have the niggling feeling that 1) may have to be 車 うんてん できる, because, literally, "I can master the driving of a car". And as for 2), I am not sure one would take this long way. If it's just unusual, I can for now live with that (my level being beginner's). But if it's grammatically wrong because maybe you don't turn a shimasu-verb into a noun that way (rather than simply leaving the shimasu out in the first place), I'd have to bear that in mind.

Thank you very much!

1 Answer 1

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First of all, both of your sentences are right, they are both the correct way to say "I can drive a car."

"To drive a car" is 車を運転する, and to put it into plain potential form, we change する into its potential form, which is できる. So 車を運転できる is the most concise way to say it. Similarly, 日本語を話す is to speak Japanese, if we put 話す into its potential form 話せる, we get 日本語を話せる, making it "I can speak Japanese."

However, when you really have to emphasize something, you could use the construct "XXことができる" (lit. the action of XXX is capable (for me)). In this case, "I drive a car" is 車を運転する, so "I can drive a car" is 車を運転することができる. Similarly, "I speak Japanese" 日本語を話す becomes "I can speak Japanese" 日本語を話すことができる.

Both options are valid, it's just the first uses potential form of verbs, the second nominalizes the verb using こと, then say this こと is できる. On a side note, the potential form of する is できる.

P.S. You would not say 車の運転できる, but you can say 車の運転(は/が)できる because 車の運転 is a noun, "the driving of cars", it needs a topic-particle or subject-particle to make it the subject of the verb できる.

Ignore the following info if you have not learned の-が conversion yet. I don't wanna confuse you early on

車の運転できる would be a valid relative clause, but not a valid main clause. Because in relative clauses, が is often replaced by の, a practice inherited from ancient Japanese. So if you say 車の運転できる to a Japanese, they'd expect something to come after, like 車の運転できる人 or 車の運転できる学生たち, as 車の運転できる along is not a complete sentence on its own. In this case, it's essentially 車が運転できる人 or 車が運転できる学生たち. But here the subject is 車, verb is 運転できる, unlike 車の運転ができる, where subject is 車の運転, and verb is できる.

Wait, wouldn't it be 車運転できる? Why が? Well it turns out that in Japanese, when verbs are in potential form, を can be replaced by が. For example, "(one) can choose his own book", would be normally 本を選べる(選べる being the potential form of 選ぶ), but can also be 本選べる. Thus, "a school where you can choose your book" can be 本選べる学校, 本選べる学校, or 本選べる学校 in Japanese. All grammatically correct.

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  • And if 車の運転ができる is to become a relative clause, it could be 車の運転のできる人, the first の being the possessive particle, the latter being the replacement for が
    – dvx2718
    May 28, 2023 at 3:47

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