Potential verb

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A potential verb is a compound conjugation of a base verb with a helper verb expressing the potential (possibility of doing verb action exists) of that base verb. It can usually be translated with English phrases such as "can" or "be able to".

Formation

Conjugations are given in shuushikei for CJ (Classical Japanese) conjugation and rentaikei for the otherwise.

Godan verb

CJ potential 
add -ru to mizenkei 
long potential 
add -reru to mizenkei 
short potential 
add -eru to renyoukei 
often the -ieru contracts to -eru

(common forms that never contract: arieru)

Ichidan verb

CJ potential 
add -raru to mizenkei 
long potential 
add -rareru to mizenkei 
short potenital 
change last syllable to e-row and add -ru 

Etymology

Earlier texts use -ra and -rayu as a potential form instead of -ru and -raru. Which of these forms came first is not known nor exactly how they were formed.

However, it is almost certain that forming the potential utilizes and uru (to get, obtain) and for some forms possibly aru (to be).

The long potential is the same as the CJ potential with the following changes having taken place.

Modern Japanese abandoned the use of the shuushikei verb form and uses the rentaikei as a predicative (for "ending" sentences) instead. Forming the rentaikei adds a -ru to the shuushikei. Moreover, modern Japanese reduced the conjugation classes verbs belong to, resulting in a change of -uru to -eru.

The origin of the short potential is quite clear though. Godan verbs simply add eru (to get, obtain) to the renyoukei. For most verbs, the i sound of the renyoukei contracts with the e sound of eru as descibed in Formation.

The short potential of Ichidan verbs is likely an analogy to Godan verbs.

Usage

The CJ potential is not used normally anymore except for literary purposes &c. For Ichidan verbs, the short potential is considered colloquial and not standard usage. For Godan verbs, both forms are possible. The long potential is considered more formal however.

It may be that the using the short potential is influenced by the fact that the long potential is ambigous; it may also express a passive or a honorific; the short potential is unambigious. Preference might be given to the short potential to avoid this ambiguity.

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