a. ピアノひかれますか。
b. ピアノひきますか。
c. ピアノひけますか。
d. ピアノひけますか。

ピアノをひくことができますか。= Can you play the piano, and the sentence with that meaning is c. ピアノがひけますか。

The English “can” or “be able to” can be expressed in 2 different ways in Japanese. One is to use “[dictionary verb] + ことができる” and the other is to use a potential verb or a verb in its potential form.

A potential verb is a separate verb which derives from a go-dan verb and has the meaning of “can/able” in it. In order to change a go-dan verb into a potential verb, you need to change the letter before -ます from the -i sounding letter to the -e sounding letter of the same consonant column. i.e.

ます/い (to say) ⇒ います/いる (can say)
ます/か (to write) ⇒ かます/かる (can write)
ます/た (to add) ⇒ たます/たる (can add)

As these potential verb are meant to end in -eます/-eる, they are all ichi-dan verb.

If you want to add a meaning of “can” to an ichi-dan verb, you need to change it into a potential form by adding られ between its stem and ます. i.e.

おきます/おきる (to get up) ⇒ おきられます/おきられる (can get up)
たべます/たべる (to eat) ⇒ たべられます/たべられる (can eat)

As for the 2 irregular verbs, します/する changes to できます/できる and きます/くる changes to こられます/こられる.

The recent trend is that people skip ら from a potential form verb (that ending in -られます/-られる), so many young people say:


While it is important for Japanese learners to be able to understand these words, they have not quite become the standard yet, so I do recommend to remember the phrase with ら in it.

What has been explained up to here appears in this video.

One thing you need to remember with potential (form) verbs is that the particle を in a sentence without the meaning of “can” often changes to が in a sentence with a potential (form) verb:

ピアノをひきます。(I play the piano)
ピアノがひます。(I can play the piano)

スキーをします。(I ski)
スキーができます。(I can ski)

More examples:

I can write kanji characters.

百円(ひゃくえん)で 何(なに)が買(か)ますか。
What can you buy for 100 yen?

We can swim in the sea in front of our house.

We could harvest lots of vegetables.

I can’t say such a thing.

I couldn’t sleep last night.

Cars cannot stop suddenly.

I can’t drink alcohol.

I cannot eat peanuts.

I can’t get up at such an early time of 5 o’clock.

I cannot stay in a place like that.

そのシャツは 小(ちい)さくて着(き)られません。
That shirt is too small. I cannot wear it.

I can’t decide which is better.

Can you come here/this way?

For more study material for JLPT N4 exam, please visit JLPT N4 Grammar and Vocab and JLPT N4 Kanji pages.

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