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Can - Dekiru

An article on できる - can

A YOUNG CLAY: "Teacher, Can I use the bathroom?"
"I don't know, Can you?"

This page is dedicated to the teacher who taught me the difference between "can" and "may"

Let's look at how to say "can" in Japanese:

First the 2 ways that use できる dekiru or the -masu form できます dekimasu (they both mean "can do", "able to do")


nihongo ga dekiru.
[lit. Japanese can do.]
(I) can speak Japanese.

This just says, "Japanese can", but of course what is meant is (I) can speak (or write) Japanese. Usually pronouns are left out when the context is clear. For more on pronoun usage, click here.

Notice ga is used with dekiru.



(I) can't do (it) (or
できない。 dekinai)

sukai daibingu ga dekimasu ka?

Can (you) sky-dive?



nihongo o hanasu koto ga dekiru.
[Japanese speaking-thing can do]
I can speak Japanese.

To add a verb, you must stick koto ga dekiru to the simple verb. A simple verb usually ends with a 'ru' or a 'su,' and is the shortest form of the verb.

X tabemasu (masu form of 'to eat')
O taberu (simple form) + koto ga dekiru

X hanashimasu (masu form)
O hanasu (simple form) + koto ga dekiru


natto o taberu koto ga dekimasen.

(I) can't eat natto. (or
できない。 dekinai)

toire ni iku koto ga dekimasu.

(I) can go to the bathroom.

And one that doesn't use dekiru


nihongo ga hanaseru.
[Japanese can speak]
I can speak Japanese

This basically means the same thing, but uses a different way. I won't say much on this now, as I want to concentrate on dekiru. But "can" can be acheived by changing the verb's ending. To learn about verb groupings click here

GROUP 1: ADD ~eru
話す hanasu (to speak) Arrow Image 話せる hanaseru (can speak)
書く kaku (to write) Arrow Image 書ける kakeru (can write)

GROUP 2: add ~rareru ; Most verbs fall into this category
食べる taberu (to eat) Arrow Image 食べられる taberareru (can eat)
見る miru (to see) Arrow Image 見える mieru

GROUP 3: These are the irregular verbs. These 2 are all you have to worry about
来る kuru (to come) Arrow Image 来られる korareru (can come) [A shorter version 来れる koreru is also in use - Maybe recent Japanese has been working to shorten these long tongue twisters.]
* する suru (to do) becomes できる dekiru (as discussed above)


pi-man o taberaremasu ka?
Can you eat green peppers? (It seems a lot of Japanese children hate green peppers)

pa-ti- ni koraremasu ka?
Can (you) come to the party?

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見る ??

Shouldn't it be mirareru or mireru instead of mieru, because if it's written mieru,it must fall within group 1 category?

Ranja's picture

Re: 見る ??

You are right. Mieru ia another verb, so it should be mirareru.

No, 見る is just a little

No, 見る is just a little irregular in this form and also the 〜(さ)せる (let/allow/permit) form as 見せる (as opposed to 見される) similar to how 行く is irregular in the 〜て and 〜た forms as 行って and 行った.

見る, not really irregular.

Ranja is quite right. 見える as well as 見せる are separate verbs in their own right. It's almost a matter of interpretation, but there are certainly times when 見られる is used instead of 見える, usually when you want to emphasize a person's ability to see rather than an object's visibility; also when it's the passive and not potential, of course, but that's somewhat a different case. 見れる, the short potential is supposedly used in some cases too, but I've never encountered it personally.

見させる is a case I can't quite recall actually encountering, but I can see how it would be used in any case where someone is being made or allowed to look at something, but not actually being -shown- the item. 見せる is pretty strictly used for showing somebody something, which is not as broad as letting someone see something, so there's room for both the conjugation of 見る and the verb 見せる.

Anyway, while there is some reason to consider the 'irregular conjugation' theory, dictionaries and textbooks have pretty much universally written that 見える and 見せる are separate verbs with specific meanings. Those special verbs make the potential and causative conjugations rare, as the special verbs are preferred, but those special verbs don't actually replace the conjugations completely or create a case of an irregular verb.

行く・来る・する on the other hand, are actually irregular, or anyway, textbooks nearly universally list those three as 'the irregular verbs' of Japanese.

私は日本語を話すことができません!right? lol

私は日本語を話すことができません!right? lol

whizkid's picture

Its not wrong. I think the

Its not wrong. I think the most natural way to say it is:
私は日本語が話せません。 Potential verb of 話す is 話せる

Oops... a couple more link errors?

Hi Clay,

Thought you should know:

I click on...
- "For more on pronoun usage" and it goes to "Hiragana Page 04 え e" instead
- "learn about verb groupings" and it takes me to "First Blog" by rinnight.


clay's picture

Thanks Dan! Just fixed it.

Thanks Dan! Just fixed it. Let me know if you spot others.

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