Grammar Info

N4 Lesson 8: 16/18


Can, Be able to


Verb + こと + + できる
Noun + + できる


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About ことができる

Like ことがある, ことができる is an expression that nominalizes what comes before it (turns it into a noun-phrase), and then highlights something about that (A) phrase. In the case of ことができる, the thing being highlighted about (A) is that it is 'possible'. This translates as 'can do (A)', or 'to be able to do (A)'.
  • (さかな)のように(およ)ことができるように毎日(まいにち)練習(れんしゅう)する
    I practice everyday so that I will be able to swim like a fish.
  • (かれ)料理(りょうり)することができる
    He is able to cook.
However, こと is only required when the (A) phrase needs nominalization (is not a noun to begin with). Due to this, ができる may be used by itself when following a noun, without changing the meaning.
  • 運転(うんてん)ができる彼氏(かれし)()しい
    I want a boyfriend that can drive.
  • 力仕事(ちからしごと)ができる(ひと)(さが)ています
    We are looking for a person that is able to do physical labor.
Fun Fact
のが (or のは) is also frequently used for nominalization, but this is rarely the case when a verb follows it. Some other expressions where のが may not be swapped for こと are as follows:
ことがある - For (A) to exist.
ことにする - To make something (A).
ことになる - For (A) to come to be.


  • (うま)()ことができる

    I can ride a horse.

    • (およ)ことができます

      Can you swim?

      • (はじ)めて漢字(かんじ)()ことができた

        I was able to write kanji for the first time.

        • (わたし)子供(こども)一人(ひとり)()(もの)ができる

          My kid can go shopping by himself.

          • (わたし)(あね)(うた)ことが出来(でき)

            My older sister can sing.

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            ことができる – Grammar Discussion

            Most Recent Replies (5 in total)

            • matt_in_mito


              There’s no real difference but I personally use ことができる in more polite/formal situations. It definitely feels more polite. I usually use standard potential form with friends.

            • Johnathan-Weir


              @matt_in_mito @rwmleach

              I’ve heard that ことができる is more about ability to do something.

              While potential form is not only ability to do something but opportunity as well.

              So basically if you can’t swim you can say:


              But if can’t swim because you have homework then you can only say:


              Though I don’t have a link on hand to support this.

            • matt_in_mito


              This actually makes a lot of sense and when I say it to myself it sounds right. Thanks.

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