Does potential form work the same way in english?

Asked 4 years ago

Recently I learnt how to do potential form, and a drill came up that went


Today, I can't lose

If someone said that in English I would assume it means that there will be consequences if they lose, not just that they are physically unable to lose. Is this the same in Japanese, or is there a different way to express this? 


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2 Answers



No, you've got it right more or less. If you think about when the phrase you cited is used (over-used rather, in anime) there's all sorts of consequences tied into the situation. Character loses, character dies and the world is doomed or character loses, fails to impress his girlfriend and is doomed to bachelorhood/eternal misery or what have you.

The potential form is, for all intents and purposes, can/cannot in English.

There's also the ことが出来る form (correct me if I'm wrong, even though I spend half of each year in Japan I hardly ever hear/see this form used - it's very formal and strong) which is introduced on here first because it doesn't involve conjugating dictionary forms but again... See my comments in brackets. I'm always a bit surprised when I actually see it used.

Honestly the potential form is one of the most widely used forms in spoken Japanese so spend good time making sure you master it - in fact the 'did you' construction in English uses this form, 例えば 「楽しめたの?」 「ん、楽しめたよ。」 'Did you have a good time/enjoy it?' 'Yeah I did.' So it's used for fully completed actions (similar to the preterite form in Romance languages, if that helps) as well. 「ちゃんとお仕事出来たの?」 「ん、でかしたぜ。」 'Have you finished your work for today?' 'Yeah, no worries.' でかした = piece of cake, piece of piss (UK usage). You could also use dekita there.

There's also the potential form+ようになる construction which roughly means, in English, to become capable of doing something but that one is a bit more difficult to explain and I've got some Japanese business e-mails to answer... All the best with your Japanese studies! ぼちぼちでな!

Answered 4 years ago


Hi エミリーsan,

Simply speaking, the potential form can express 1 ) abilities 2 ) situations and 3 ) attributes [-able].

For example, 

1 ) 私は日本語を話せる。[= I can speak Japanese. ]  

2 ) 明日は日曜日だから、昼までねられる。[= As tomorrow is Sunday, I can sleep until daytime. ]

3 ) このきのこは、食べられる。[= This mashroom is edible.


Hi, 番長-san,

Thank you for your clear explanation! 

Answered 4 years ago


Commented 4 years ago