Chapter summary and practice

In this chapter, we learned how to deal with uncertainty in various ways. I’m sure we can all think of many situations where things are not 100% certain. Common scenarios include talking about the weather, news, and the future.

Below is a list of sample topics you can write about or discuss with your conversation partner (either in casual or polite form as appropriate).

  1. 何ヶ国語話せますか。
    How many languages can (you) speak?
  2. 死ぬ前に一回してみたいことはある?
    Is there something (you) would like to try doing before (you) die.
  3. うっかりしてしまったとても恥ずかしいこと。
    Something very embarrassing (you) did inadvertently.
  4. 百万長者だったら何をしますか。
    What would (you) do if (you) were a millionaire?
  5. どんな願いでも一つだけ叶えたら、何を願いますか。
    If (you) could grant any one wish, what (would you) wish for?

Distinguishing similar grammar

In this chapter, we learned many different ways to say similar things. In teaching, it’s convenient to group similar concepts and cover them together. However, when it comes time to use them in practice, it can create confusion as learners try to decide which grammar to use and get caught up in trying to find the difference between similar concepts.

Let’s take a look at some examples and why one grammar is more appropriate over others in various situations. It’s important to keep in mind that there is often no one right answer as it really depends on what you want to say exactly.

Like, it’s not like I like it like that

“Like” is a word in English that has many usages and can even be overused. With words like this, it’s natural that other languages have many different types of grammar that all translate to the same word in English. Therefore, we need to learn to make distinctions that we usually don’t think about.

  • Is it an impression of the future or guess (with some uncertainty)? Use 「~そう」.
    1. これ、おいしそうですね!
      This looks tasty! (haven’t tasted yet)
    2. ここにはなさそうだけど、もう一度探してみるよ。
      It doesn’t seem to be here but (I’ll) look one more time. (guessing)
    3. 楽しそうだな。私も行こうかな?
      Seems like fun (impression). I wonder if I should go too?
  • Is it based on hearsay? Use 「らしい」 or 「だ/た+そう」. Use the former if it’s an impression based on general hearsay and the latter if heard from a specific person.
    1. そこのお店は、結構安いらしいよ。
      (I) heard (in general) that that store is pretty cheap.
    2. 昨日はかなり大変だったそうよ。
      (I) heard (from someone) that yesterday was very rough.
  • Is it resembling behavior ie “acting like a…” or trigger an emotion? Use 「らしい」.
    1. どうした?君らしくないな。
      What’s the matter? (It’s) not like you. (behavior).
    2. そのドレス、とてもかわいらしいよ。
      That dress is very cute! (triggers feeling of cuteness)
  • Is it a resemblance in appearance or manner? Use 「みたい」, 「よう」 (polite/formal), or 「っぽい」 (slang). This is also more generic and can be in other situations without the connotations of other grammar.
    1. 明日は雨みたいです。
      Looks like tomorrow is rain.
    2. こちらのチームは苦戦しているようですが、どうしますか。
      It appears our team is having a hard fight so what should (we) do?
    3. その服は、ちょっと男っぽくない
      Don’t those clothes look a bit manly?

Are you trying hard enough?

We learned several grammar that all mean “try” but with difference nuances such as “try” vs “attempt”. While they are often interchangeable, the difference is mostly due to how much effort is exerted.

  • Is it a light effort, experimentation, or just trying something new? Use 「te-form+みる」.
    1. ちょっとやってみるよ。
      I’ll give it a shot.
    2. これを食べてみて。おいしいよ!
      Try eating this. It’s tasty!
    3. ドアを開けてみて
      Try opening the door.
  • Is it an attempt with concerted effort or setting about to do something (just before actually starting)? Use 「volitional + とする」
    1. ドアを開けようとした
      Attempted to open the door (such as forcing it open).
    2. 話しかけようとしたら、突然電話が鳴った。
      When (I) set out to talk to him/her, (the) phone suddenly rang.
  • Is it a goal or an attempt to reach a certain state such as behavior? Use 「ように(する/なる)」
    1. あまり大きい音を出さないようにしてね。
      Try not to make a big sound, ok?
    2. 最近はもっと社交的になろうとしているんだけど、会話が苦手でなかなか難しい。
      Lately, (I’ve) been trying to be more social but (I’m) bad at conversation and (it’s) pretty hard.

In that case, when and/or if then…

The conditionals are extremely tricky because of the 4 different types and all the various conjugations. We already looked at some examples using various scenarios. To further simplify things, let’s start by looking at the conditionals that are most distinctive and easy to separate.

  • Is it a supposition ie, “if that’s the case…”? Use 「なら(ば)」. 「ならば」 is very formal so usually just 「なら」.
    1. それなら、仕方がないね。
      Well in that case, (I) guess (it) can’t be helped.
  • Is it a natural consequence ie, “when not if”? Use 「と」. Also, casual speech often uses 「と」 just because it’s the shortest.
    1. スーパーなら、その角を右に曲がるとすぐそこにあるよ。
      If you mean (the) supermarket, if (you) turn right at that corner, (it’s) right there.
    2. メガネがないと、何も見えないでしょう?
      With no glasses, (you) can’t see anything, right?
  • Did it already happen? Use 「たら(ば)」.「たらば」 is very formal so usually just 「たら」.
    1. 今朝起きたら、顔にニキビが付いていた。
      When (I) woke up this morning, (a) pimple was attached to (my) face.
  • Is it a generic “if” statement? Use 「ば/たら(ば)」. These are usually pretty interchangeable though there are some very slight differences.
    1. もっとお金があれば、色んな欲しいものが買えるのにな。
      If (I) have more money, (I) could buy various things I want.
    2. もっとお金があったら、色んな欲しいものが買えるのにな。
      If (I) had more money, (I) could buy various things I want.

Phrasing questions

When we want to talk about a question in a larger sentence, we can treat the sentence as a phrase by using the 「か」 question marker.


  1. 田中さんはいつ来る、分かりますか。
    Do (you) know when Tanaka-san is coming?
  2. 来年、日本に留学しに行く、悩んでいる。
    (I’m) agonizing whether I should go to Japan next year for study abroad.

When it’s a yes/no question, you can append an optional 「どうか」 to represent the other choice.


  1. 悩む 【なや・む】 – to be troubled over something, to agonize over a decision
  2. 留学 【りゅう・がく】 – study abroad
  1. 田中さんは、明日来るかどうか、分かりますか。
    Do (you) know whether Tanaka-san is coming tomorrow or not?
  2. 来年、日本に留学しに行くかどうか、悩んでいる。
    (I’m) agonizing whether I should go to Japan next year for study abroad or not.
  3. 日本に行きたいかどうか、分かりません。
    Whether (I) want to go to Japan or not, (I) don’t know.

Comic 12 – 「彼女」の意味

  1. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  2. ガールフレンド – girlfriend
  3. 両方 【りょう・ほう】 – both sides
  4. 意味 【い・み】 – meaning
  5. 持つ 【も・つ】(u-verb) – to hold
  6. 余計 【よ・けい】 (na-adj) – too much, unnecessary, excess
  7. 紛らわしい 【まぎ・らわしい】 (i-adj) confusing, misleading
  8. コンテキスト – context
  9. 大体 【だい・たい】 – general; substantially
  10. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand
  11. それに – besides; moreover
  12. どっち – which (way)
  13. 相手 【あい・て】 – other party
  14. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) – to ask; to listen
  15. 確認 【かく・にん】 – confirmation
  16. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) – to be able to do
  17. そう – (things are) that way
  18. そんな – that sort of
  19. 質問 【しつ・もん】 – question
  20. じゃ – short for では (informal)
  21. 結局 【けっ・きょく】 – eventually; in the end

John: 彼女 holds both meaning of “she” and “girlfriend” so (it’s) unnecessarily confusing.

Alice: Wouldn’t (you) mostly understand by context? Moreover, if (you) don’t understand, (you) can confirm by asking the other (person) which (it is), right?

John: That’s so, isn’t it? If (I) ask is she/girlfriend she/girlfriend, (I) will understand, won’t (I)?

Alice: By that kind of question, (you) won’t know which is which in the end, right?


There are four ways to express conditional in Japanese, each with a slightly different meaning and used in different situations.

General Conditional

The most generic conditional without any assumptions or embedded meanings is the 「~ば」 conditional. The conjugation rules for the 「ば」 conditional is below.

Conjugation rules for 「ば」

  • For verbs: change the last /u/ vowel sound to the /e/ vowel sound and append 「ば」

    1. 食べ → 食べ → 食べれ+ = 食べれば
    2.  → 待 → 待て+ = 待てば
    3.  → す → すれ+ = すれば
  • For i-adjectives and negatives ending in 「ない」: drop the last 「い」 and append 「ければ」

    1. おいし → おいし+ければ = おいしければ
    2. 食べな → 食べな+ければ = 食べなければ
    3.  → な+ければ = なければ
  • For nouns and na-adjectives: append 「であれば」

    1. 学生 → 学生であれば
    2. 暇 → 暇であれば


  1. 早めに電話すれば、予約が簡単にできるよ。
    If (you) call early, (you) can make (a) reservation easily.
  2. 明日は忙しくなければ、映画を見に行かない?
    If tomorrow is not busy, won’t (you) to go to watch movie?
  3. 親切な人であれば、友達になれると思う。
    If (he/she) is (a) nice person, (I) think (we) can become friends.

Past Conditional

The past conditional is created by adding 「ら」 to the past tense form of a verb, noun, or adjective. The full form is 「らば」 but the 「ば」 is usually omitted.

This form can also used in the past tense to describe something that was unexpected instead of a condition.

Past conditional conjugation rule
Change the noun, adjective, or verb to its past tense and append 「ら(ば)」

  1. 友達だった+ = 友達だったら
  2. 忙しかった → 忙しかった+ = 忙しかったら
  3. 食べた → 食べた+ = 食べたら
  4. 読んだ → 読んだ+ = 読んだら
  5. 暇じゃなかった+ = 暇じゃなかったら


  1. 今日は忙しかったら、明日会いましょう。
    If (you) are busy today, let’s meet tomorrow.
  2. 行きたくなかったら、どうして行きたいと言ったの?
    If (you) didn’t want to go, why did (you) say (you) wanted to go?
  3. 家に帰ったら、犬がごみを散らかしていた。
    When (I) returned home, (the) dog was scattering around (the) garbage.

Contextual conditional

The contextual conditional is used by appending 「なら(ば)」 to a noun, verb, or adjective. The full form is 「ならば」 but the 「ば」 is usually omitted.

This conditional is used to describe something in a given context. Often, there is no actual conditional, ie “Well, if that’s the case, then…” or “Given that…”

Contextual conditional usage rule
Append 「なら(ば)」 to the noun, verb, or adjective

  1. 友達+なら = 友達なら
  2. 忙しい+なら = 忙しいなら
  3. 忙しくない+なら = 忙しくないなら
  4. 食べる+なら = 食べるなら


  1. 皆が行きたくないと言うなら、私も行かないよ。
    If everybody is saying (they) don’t want to go, I won’t go as well.
  2. アリスちゃんなら、もう家に帰ったよ。
    If (you’re) referring to Alice-chan, (she) went home already, you know.
  3. 昨日起きた話なら、田中さんからもう聞いたよ。
    If (you’re) referring to (the) story of (what) happened yesterday, (I) already heard from Tanaka-san.
  4. 忙しくないなら、どうして会えないの?
    If (you’re) not busy, why can’t you meet (me)?

Natural consequence

The natural conditional is used by appending 「と」 for verbs and i-adjectives or 「だと」 for nouns and na-adjectives.

This conditional is used to describe things that happen as a natural consequence with very high certainty ie, “If you do X, Y will certainly happen.” It can also be translated as “when” in addition to “if”.

Natural conditional usage rule
Append 「と」 to the noun, verb, or adjective

  • For nouns/na-adjectives: Append 「だと」

    1. 友達+だと = 友達だと
    2. 静か+だと = 静かだと
  • For verbs/i-adjectives and negatives ending in 「ない」: Append 「と」

    1. する+ = すると
    2. しない+ = しないと
    3. 忙しい+ = 忙しいと


  1. 今から行かないと、電車に間に合わないよ。
    If (we) don’t go now starting now, (we) won’t make the train.
  2. 彼は暇だといつもゲームをしているの。
    If he’s free, (he) always plays game(s).
  3. そんなにたくさん食べると絶対太るよ。
    If (you) eat that much, (you’ll) get fat for sure.

Examples of different scenarios

It’s not often obvious nor easy to explain when you would use one type of conditional over another. The best way to master conditionals is by learning from many examples over time. To help you get started, below are a few examples to illustrate some scenarios where some conditionals are more appropriate then others. However, keep in mind, that no version is necessarily incorrect as it can depend on the context and the message the speaker is trying to convey.

学生 – student

  1. 学生であれば、学生割引が使えるよ。
    If (you) are (a) student, (you) can use student discount.
    (Generic conditional, no assumption whether you a student)
  2. ここの学生だったら、またすぐ会えるのにな。
    If only (he/she) was (a) student of here, (I) would be able to meet again soon.
    (Same as generic conditional but used for the past tense)
  3. 大学生なら、勉強をもっとすると思ったけど、全然していないよ。
    If (he/she) is a student, (I) thought (he/she) would study more but (he/she) doesn’t at all.
    (He/she is a student, ie “since he is a student…”)
  4. 学生だと、ここのラーメンは400円だよ。
    If (you) are (a) student, ramen here is 400 yen.
    (Stating a fact)

忙しい – busy

  1. 忙しくなければ、映画を見に行こう。
    If (you’re) not busy, let’s go see (a) movie.
    (Generic conditional with no assumption of whether you’re busy or not)
  2. そんなに忙しかったら、どうして昼寝をしたの?
    If (you’re) that busy, why (did you) take a nap?
    (Same as generic conditional but used for the past tense)
  3. そんなに忙しいなら、話は明日にしましょう。
    If (you’re) that busy, let’s talk tomorrow.
    (It’s known that the person is busy ie “given that you’re busy…”)
  4. 仕事で忙しくなるといつもジャンクフードを食べたくなる。
    If (I) become busy with work, (I) always want to eat junk food.
    (Predetermined outcome, ie “when busy…”)

分かる – understand

  1. 方程式が分かれば、試験は簡単だよ。
    If (you) understand (the) formula, (the) test is simple.
    (Generic conditional that can be applied to anybody)
  2. 時間と場所が分かったら、皆にメールを送るよ。
    If (I) know the time and place, (I’ll) send email to everybody.
    (Used to express what happens after, ie “once (I) know…”)
  3. 私の気持ちが分からないなら、もう話す必要がないの。
    If (you) don’t understand my feeling(s), there is no need to talk anymore.
    (The person doesn’t seem to understand, ie “since you don’t understand…”)
  4. 電話番号が分からないと連絡が出来ないでしょう?
    If (you) don’t know (the) phone number, (you) can’t contact (him/her/them), right?
    (Expressing almost 100% certainty)

Unintended Actions

Sometimes we do things that we didn’t mean to and there are a couple ways we can express actions that we did not intend to take.

We can use the noun for intention (つもり) to express what was or wasn’t intended.


  1. つもり – intention; plan
  2. 後 【あと】 – afterwards
  3. 買い物 【か・い・もの】 – shopping
  4. する (exception) – to do
  5. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  6. 夜 【よる】 – evening
  7. 出かける 【で・かける】(ru-verb) – to go out
  8. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  9. 心配 【しん・ぱい】 – worry; concern
  10. いる (u-verb) – to need
  11. 先生 【せん・せい】 – teacher
  12. 教える 【おし・える】 (ru-verb) – to teach; to inform
  1. 後で買い物をしに行くつもりです。
    (I) intend on going to do shopping later.
  2. 夜に出かけるつもりはないので、心配はいりません。
    (I) don’t intend on going out at night so (you) don’t need (to) worry.
  3. 先生に教えるつもりはなかったんだよ。
    (I) didn’t intend on telling the teacher, you know.

You can have no intention using 「つもり」 and 「ない」 as the last example sentence shows. However, in order to describe something unintended (accidental), we need to use verb:「しまう」.

Using 「しまう」 for unintended actions

The verb 「しまう」 has two main definitions: 1) to finish; to do something completely and 2) for something unintended to happen. The latter definition is used for situations when you did something you didn’t mean to do. To use this with other verbs, attach 「しまう」 to the te-form of the verb.


  1. しまった!宿題を持ってくるのを忘れた!
    Oh no! (I) forgot to bring (my) homework!
  2. もう起きてしまった事は仕方ないよ。
    There’s nothing you can do about something that already happened (unintentionally).
  3. 我慢ができないからついつい買ってしまうんですよ。
    (I) can’t resist so (I) unintentionally end up buying (it).

Casual version of 「~てしまう」

In casual speech, the 「~てしまう」 can be substituted by 「~ちゃう」 while 「~でしまう」 is substituted by 「じゃう」. Both 「~ちゃう」 and 「~じゃう」 conjugate just like regular u-verbs.


  1. もう注文しちゃったけど、どうする?
    (I) already ordered (oops) so what should (we) do?
  2. 彼女を元彼女の名前で呼んじゃったよ!
    (I) called my girlfriend by my ex-girlfriend’s name (by accident)!
  3. もう分かっちゃった事は忘れられないでしょう?
    (I) can’t forget something that I already learned (unintentionally) right?

There is also a much less common casual version of 「~てしまう」 and 「~でしまう」 that sounds much more rough and coarse and is usually only used by older males. This version replaces 「~てしまう」 and 「~でしまう」 with 「~ちまう」 and 「~じまう」 respectively. The result is conjugated the same as any u-verb.


  1. また連絡するのを忘れちまったのかよ?
    Did (you) forget to contact (me) again?
  2. 悪い、お前のメールを読んじまったよ。
    Sorry, (I) read your email (by accident).


Kaori: Nice to meet you! (You’re a) student of Japanese, right? (I’m) called Kaori.

John: Ni, nice to meet. I’m John. Why did (you know) I’m (a) Japanese student?

Kaori: (I) happened to (unintentionally) see you taking Japanese class. How many years have (you) been studying Japanese?

John: Um, about 2 years?

Kaori: (That’s) amazing. (You) can talk this much even though (you’ve) only been studying 2 years?

John: No, (I) think I’m not that good yet…

(It’s) not like that. (You) are really good. Things turned out so that I will help (the) Japanese teacher from time to time while (I’m) here so let’s get along (lit: please treat me well). Oh, class is going to start soon (unintended). See you later.

Lee and Alice are walking in the hallway.

Lee: (I) hear Kaori-san is going to help our class’s teacher?

Alice: That’s right. (It) seems she wants to be helpful to everybody.

Lee: (She’s) very kind, isn’t she?

Alice: That’s right. She’s very kind to everybody so seems like boys will (unintentionally) misinterpret (it) so (I’m) worried.

Lee: (It’s) ok. That kind of type isn’t in our class, right? Huh? John, what are (you) doing spacing out in the hallway?

John: (I) may have met (an) angel.

Alice: Huh? What was that?


There are several different ways to try something in Japanese including making an effort toward something, making an attempt at something, and trying something out to see what happens.

Striving for a goal

In order to express “try” as striving toward a goal, we use the same 「よう」 we learned in the last section to describe the manner or appearance of the way we want to act. In this case, we use the verb 「する」 (meaning “to do”) and the 「に」 target particle to do toward the manner or appearance of the verb clause.


  1. タバコを吸わないようにする
    Try not to smoke cigarettes.
    (lit: Do toward manner of not smoking.)
  2. 甘い物を食べないようにしている
    Trying not to eat sweet things.
    (lit: Doing toward manner of not eating sweet things).
  3. もっと運動をするようにしていたけど、すぐあきらめた。
    Was trying to exercise a lot more but soon gave up.
    (lit: Was doing toward manner of doing more exercise but soon gave up.)

Achieving an action

If you use the same grammar as before but with the verb 「なる」 (meaning “to become”) instead of 「する」, we can describe reaching the state of the verb.


  1. タバコを吸わないようになる
    (It) became so that (I) don’t smoke.
    (lit: Become manner of not smoking.)
  2. 毎日運動したから簡単に太らないようになった
    (I) exercised every day so (it) became so that (I) won’t get fat easily.
  3. 2年間日本に住んでいたから、日本語が話せるようになりました
    (I) lived in Japan for two years so (I) became able to speak Japanese.

Making an attempt

The volitional form can also be used to describe an attempt or effort to do a single action. In this case, we use the volitional form followed by 「と」 and the verb 「する」 (“to do”).


  1. 犬はいつも人の食べ物を食べようとする
    Dog always tries (attempts) to eat people’s food.
  2. 休みなのに、両親はどこにも行こうとしないから、つまらないよ。
    Even though (it’s a) holiday, (my) parents don’t try (make an effort) to go anywhere so (it’s) boring.

Comic 11 – ニートの話

  1. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know
  2. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  3. 仕事 【し・ごと】 – job
  4. する (exception) – to do
  5. 学校 【がっ・こう】 – school
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  7. 人達 【ひと・たち】 – people
  8. ニート – NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training)
  9. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  10. 信じる 【しん・じる】 (ru-verb) – to believe
  11. そう – (things are) that way
  12. 何で 【なん・で】 – why; how
  13. 探す 【さが・す】 (u-verb) – to look for
  14. 羨ましい 【うらや・ましい】 (i-adj) – envious, jealous
  15. 生活 【せい・かつ】 – lifestyle
  16. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) – to be able to do
  17. お金 【お・かね】 – money
  18. いる (u-verb) – to need
  19. いや – no (casual)
  20. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  21. なる (u-verb) – to become
  22. 物 【もの】 – object

Alice: Did (you) know. (I) hear (that you) call people (who) don’t do things like go to work or go to school NEET.

John: (I) can’t believe it!

Alice: That’s right. I wonder why (they) don’t try to look for (a) job?

John: (I’m) jealous! Why are (they) able to do that kind of lifestyle? Don’t (you) need things like money?

Alice: No, I don’t think NEET is something (you) become because (you) like it.


A third way to express trying (not as a goal or effort) is to do something as an experiment. For example, trying out something for the first time. This grammar is expressed by changing the verb to the te-form and attaching the verb 「みる」 (“to see”).


  1. 先生に質問を聞いてみる
    Try asking teacher question.
  2. 日本料理を食べてみた
    Tried eating Japanese food.


アリス: 田中先生、ちょっと相談があります。
Alice: Tanaka-sensei, (I) have something I’d like advice on (lit: there is a consulation).

田中: はい、何でしょうか。
Tanaka: Yes, what is it?

アリス: 最近、日本語があまり上達しない気がしますが、どうしましょうか。
Alice: Lately, (I) feel like (my) Japanese isn’t improving very much but what should I do?

田中: アリスさんの日本語は上達していますよ。でも、そうですね。もっと会話の練習をしてみるのはどうですか。たくさん会話の練習をすることでもっと上手に話せるようになると思いますよ。
Tanaka: Alice-san’s Japanese is improving, you know. But, let’s see. How about trying to do much more conversation practice? (I) think (you) can become so that (you) can speak much more skillfully by doing (a) lot of conversation practice.

アリス: そうですね。でも、クラスメート達は授業以外では、全然日本語で話そうとしないんです。
Alice: That’s so, isn’t it. But (my) classmates don’t try to speak Japanese outside of class at all.

田中: それはだめですね。オンラインで日本人の友達を作るのはどうでしょう。
Tanaka: That’s bad, isn’t it? How about making Japanese friends online?

アリス: それはいい考えですね。オンラインで友達を作ってみて、もっと日本語で会話をするようにします
Alice: That is a good idea, isn’t it? I will try making friends online and try to do much more conversation in Japanese.

田中: ところで勉強をサボっているのは誰ですか。
Tanaka: By the way, who is slacking off on (their) studies?

アリス: はい?それは…ええと。
Alice: What? That is umm…

Appearances and hearsay

We often make deductions based on appearances and observations. In this section, we will learn how to describe what things appear to be based on our own and other people’s observations.

Appearance or manner

The noun 「よう」(様) is the most generic word used to describe an appearance or manner of a state or action.


  1. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  2. 学生 【がく・せい】 – student
  3. 映画 【えい・が】 – movie
  4. 見る 【み・る】 – to see; to watch
  5. 好き 【す・き】(na-adj) – likable
  6. 友達 【とも・だち】 – friend
  7. もう – already
  8. 帰る 【かえ・る】(u-verb) – to go home
  1. 彼女は、学生のようだ。
    She appears to be (a) student.
  2. 映画を見るのが好きなようですね。
    (It) appears (you) like to watch movie(s).
  3. 友達は、もう帰ったようです。
    Looks like friend went home already.

Outward appearance (casual)

「よう」 may, at times, sound somewhat formal and stiff. For casual situations, you can substitute 「みたい」 for 「よう」 to describe what something/someone looks like or appears to be.

「みたい」 at first glance, looks identical to 「見たい」 meaning “want to see”. You could even say it has a similar meaning as an outward appearance is how one wants to see something. However, the key difference is that while all verbs in the 「~たい」 form such as 「見たい」 conjugate as an i-adjective, this 「みたい」 acts like a noun same as 「よう」.


  1. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  2. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  3. この – this
  4. ぬいぐるみ – stuffed toy
  5. 犬 【いぬ】 – dog
  6. 今朝 【け・さ】 – this morning
  7. 頭 【あたま】 – head
  8. まだ – yet; still
  9. 風邪 【かぜ】 – cold (illness)
  10. 引く 【ひ・く】(u-verb) – to pull
  11. 彼【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  12. 奥さん 【おく・さん】 – wife (polite)
  13. 凄い 【すご・い】 (i-adj) – to a great extent
  14. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  1. 明日は雨みたいだよ。
    Tomorrow looks like rain, you know.
  2. このぬいぐるみは犬みたいじゃない
    Doesn’t this stuffed toy look like (a) dog?
  3. 今朝も頭が痛いからまだ風邪を引いているみたいです。
    (My) head hurt this morning as well so it looks like (I) still have a cold.
  4. 彼の奥さんはすごくかわいいみたいよ。
    His wife is apparently amazingly cute, you know.

Guessing from observation

In English, “seems like” or “looks like” is also used to made an educated guess. In Japanese, this is expressed by appending 「そう」 to the verb or adjective with the following rules. The resulting word becomes a na-adjective.

  1. 落ちる 【お・ちる】 (ru-verb) – to fall
  2. カップ – cup
  3. 降る 【ふ・る】(u-verb) – to precipitate
  4. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  5. 暇 【ひま】 (na-adj) – free (as in not busy)
  6. 大変 【たい・へん】 (na-adj) – tough, hard time
  7. おいしい (i-adj) – tasty
  8. 楽しい 【たの・しい】 (i-adj) – fun
  9. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
Rules for guessing outcome using 「そう」

  • Verbs: Conjugate to the stem and append 「そう」

    1. 落ちそう=落ちそう
      カップが落ちそう – Looks like cup is about to fall
    2. +り→降り+そう=降りそう
      雨が降りそう – Seems like it’s going to rain
  • Na-adjectives: Append 「そう」

    1. 暇+そう=暇そう
      Seems free (not busy)
    2. 大変+そう=大変そう
      Seems tough/rough
  • I-adjectives: Drop the last 「い」 and append 「そう」
    Exception: For 「いい」 → よそう=よさそう (seems good)

    1. おいしそう=おいしそう
      (Based on guessing) looks tasty.
    2. 楽しそう=楽しそう
      Seems fun.
  • Negative forms: Replace the last 「い」 with 「さ」 and append 「そう」

    1. こなそう=こなさそう
      Seems like (he/she) will not come.
    2. おいしくなさそう=おいしくなさそう
      (Based on guessing) looks not tasty.


  1. これ – this
  2. とても – very
  3. 梅雨 【つゆ】 – rainy season
  4. 嫌 【いや】 (na-adj) disagreeable; unpleasant
  5. ~な (sentence-ending particle) – casual and masculine version of ~ね
  6. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  7. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  8. 子供 【こ・ども】 – child
  9. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  10. 仕事 【し・ごと】 – job
  11. する (exception) – to do
  12. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 – homework
  13. 簡単 【かん・たん】 (na-adj) – simple
  14. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  15. 試験 【し・けん】 – exam
  16. 問題 【もん・だい】 – problem
  17. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  1. これ、とてもおいしそう
    This looks very tasty!
  2. 梅雨はいやだな。今日も雨が降りそうだよ。
    (I) dislike rainy season. (It) looks like it’s going to rain today too, you know.
  3. 彼女は、子供もいないし、仕事もしないから、とても暇そうじゃない?
    Doesn’t (she) seem to be very free because she has no kids and doesn’t do (a) job?
  4. 宿題は全部簡単だったから明日の試験は問題なさそうね。
    All (the) homework was easy so (there) doesn’t seem to be any problems for tomorrow’s test.

Expressing hearsay

In order to express what something appears to be based on what one heard from other people, we append 「そうだ」 (or 「そうです」) to the verb clause. At first glance, this grammar looks very similar to the previous grammar, however, the grammar rules are different. Also, this grammar must end in 「だ」 or 「です」 (for polite speech).

  1. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  2. きれい (na-adj) – pretty; clean
  3. 忙しい 【いそが・しい】 (i-adj) – busy
  4. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
Rules for expressing hearsay using 「そう」

  • Nouns and Na-adjectives: Add the declarative 「だ」 to the clause then attach 「そうだ」 or 「そうです」.

    1. 明日だそうだ
      (I) hear (it’s) tomorrow.
    2. きれいだそうです
      (I) hear (she) is pretty.
  • All other cases: Attach 「そうだ」 or 「そうです」 to the clause.

    1. 忙しいそうだ
      (I) hear (he’s) busy.
    2. 行きたくないそうです
      (I) hear (she) doesn’t want to go.


  1. 彼【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  2. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese (language)
  3. ぺらぺら – fluent
  4. 雪 【ゆき】 – snow
  5. 出かける 【で・かける】(ru-verb) – to go out
  6. 来週 【らい・しゅう】 – next week
  7. 期末 【き・まつ】 – end of term
  8. 試験 【し・けん】 – exam
  9. 皆 【みんな】 – everybody
  1. 彼は、日本語がぺらぺらだそうだ
    (I) hear he is fluent in Japanese.
  2. 彼の奥さんは、とてもきれいだそうです
    (I) hear that his wife is very pretty.
  3. 明日は雪が降るそうだ
    (I) hear that (it will) snow tomorrow.
  4. 雨が降っているから、出かけたくないそうです
    (I) hear that (he) doesn’t want to come out because (it’s) raining.
  5. 来週は、期末試験で皆忙しいそうです
    (I) hear that everybody is busy with the final exam(s) next week.

Appearance from hearsay or behavior

「らしい」 is another grammatical expression that expresses either hearsay or behavior. When used to express hearsay, unlike 「~そう」 from the previous section, it can be used to express impressions from non-specific hearsay rather than something specific that was said. Simply attach 「らしい」 to the end of the clause to express hearsay or behavior. It conjugates just like a regular i-adjective.

Examples of hearsay

  1. 今年 【こ・とし】 – this year
  2. 新しい 【あたら・しい】(i-adj) – new
  3. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) – to be able to do
  4. 遊園地 【ゆう・えん・ち】 – amusement park
  5. 大きい 【おお・きい】(i-adj) – big
  6. とても – very
  7. 楽しい 【たの・しい】 (i-adj) – fun
  8. 赤ちゃん 【あか・ちゃん】 – baby
  9. 生後 【せい・ご】 – post-natal
  10. 数ヶ月 【すう・か・げつ】 – several months
  11. 母乳 【ぼ・にゅう】 – mother’s milk
  12. 育てる 【そだ・てる】 (ru-verb) – to raise, to rear
  13. 一番 【いち・ばん】 – #1; best; first
  14. いい (i-adj) – good
  1. 今年新しく出来た遊園地は大きくてとても楽しいらしいよ。
    It seems (based on hearsay) that (the) new amusement park that was built this year is very big and fun.
  2. 赤ちゃんは、生後の数ヶ月は母乳で育てるのが一番いいらしい
    (I) heard that it’s best to raise baby by breast milk for few months after birth.

Examples of behavior

  1. 約束 【やく・そく】 – promise, arrangement, appointment/li>
  2. 時間 【じ・かん】 – time
  3. 遅れる 【おく・れる】 (ru-verb) – to be late
  4. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  5. あの – that (over there) (abbr. of あれの)
  6. 子 【こ】 – child
  7. とても – very
  8. しっかり – firmly; reliable; steady;
  9. する (exception) – to do
  10. 子供 【こ・ども】 – child
  11. 男 【おとこ】 – man
  12. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  13. 人 【ひと】 – person
  14. ~による (u-verb) – depending on ~
  15. 意味 【い・み】 – meaning
  16. 違う 【ちが・う】 (u-verb) – to be different
  1. 約束時間に遅れるのは、彼らしくない
    (It’s) not like him to be late to the promised time.
  2. あの子はとてもしっかりしていて、子供らしくないです。
    That child is very reliable and doesn’t act like a child.
  3. らしいと言うのは、人によって意味が違うでしょう。
    “Acting like a man” will probably have different meanings depending on the person.

Slang expression for similarity

A casual way to express similarity is to attach 「っぽい」 to the word that reflects the resemblance. Because this is a very casual expression, you can use it as a casual version for the different types of expression for similarity covered above (よう、みたい、らしい). It conjugates just like a regular i-adjective.


  1. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  2. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  3. 傘 【かさ】 – umbrella
  4. 持つ 【も・つ】 (u-verb) – to hold
  5. 最近 【さい・きん】 – recent; lately
  6. 寒い 【さむ・い】 (i-adj) – cold
  7. ちょっと – a little
  8. 風邪 【かぜ】 – common cold
  9. 男 【おとこ】 – man
  1. 今日は、雨っぽいから、傘を持ってきた。
    Today seems like (it’s going to) rain so (I) brought (an) umbrella.
  2. 最近は、寒くてちょっと風邪っぽいよ。
    Lately, (it’s) cold and seems like (I have a) cold.
  3. アリスはちょっと男っぽくない
    Isn’t Alice a little manly?


  1. 留学生 【りゅう・がく・せい】 – exchange student
  2. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) – to ask; to listen
  3. 新しい 【あたら・しい】(i-adj) – new
  4. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  5. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】 – Japanese person
  6. 女 【おんな】 – woman; girl
  7. 子 【こ】 – child
  8. マジ – serious (slang)
  9. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  10. 本当 【ほん・とう】 – real
  11. それ – that
  12. どんな – what kind
  13. 人 【ひと】 – person
  14. まだ – yet
  15. 会う 【あ・う】 (u-verb) – to meet
  16. 昼休み 【ひる・やす・み】 – lunch break
  17. ちょっと – a little
  18. ねえ – hey
  19. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  20. 話 【はなし】 – story
  21. する (exception) – to do
  22. 別に 【べつ・に】 – (not) particularly; nothing (slang)
  23. 関係 【かん・けい】 – relation
  24. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  25. 香 【かおり】 – Kaori (first name)
  26. 昨日【きのう】 – yesterday
  27. 話す 【はな・す】 (u-verb) – to speak
  28. とても – very
  29. すぐ – soon
  30. 仲良く 【なか・よ・く】 – getting along well with
  31. なる (u-verb) – to become
  32. それに – besides; moreover
  33. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  34. どう – how
  35. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  36. 意味 【い・み】 – meaning
  37. いや – no (casual)
  38. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  39. 男 【おとこ】 – man
  40. 好き 【す・き】 (na-adj) – likable; desirable
  41. そんな – that kind of, such
  42. こと – matter; event
  43. 初対面 【しょ・たい・めん】 – first meeting
  44. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand
  45. でも – but
  46. そう – (things are) that way
  47. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) – to see
  48. 感じ 【かん・じ】 – feeling
  49. 軽い 【かる・い】 (i-adj) – light; non-serious
  50. 絶対 【ぜっ・たい】 (na-adj) – absolutely, unconditionally
  51. タイプ – type
  52. 俺 【おれ】 – me; myself; I (casual masculine)
  53. 勘違い 【かん・ちが・い】 – misunderstanding
  54. バカ – dummy
  55. いいえ – no (polite)
  56. 正真正銘 【しょう・しん・しょう・めい】 – genuine, authentic

ジョン: 聞いた?新しい留学生がいるみたいだよ。日本人の女の子だそうよ!マジでかわいいらしいよ。
John: (Did you) hear? (It) seems like there’s (a) new exchange student. (I) hear (she’s a) Japanese girl! (Apparently she’s) really cute, you know.

リー: 本当に?それはビッグニュースだね。どんな人なのかな?
Lee: Really? That’s big news, isn’t it? I wonder what kind of person (she) is?

ジョン: まだ会っていないけど、昼休みにちょっと話そうよ。
John: (I) haven’t met (her) yet but let’s talk (to her) a little bit at lunch break.

アリス: ねえ、なんの話しているの?
Alice: Hey, what are (you) talking about?

ジョン: 別に。アリスちゃんとは関係ないよ。
John: Nothing in particular. Nothing that concerns Alice-chan.

リー: アリスちゃんは新しい留学生に会った?
Lee: Did Alice-chan meet (the) new exchange student?

アリス: なんだ。香さんの話?昨日ちょっとだけ話したよ。女らしくてとてもかわいい子だったよ。すぐ仲良くなれそうな感じ?それに私には関係ないってどういう意味?
Alice: What? (You’re) talking about Kaori-san? (I) talked (to her) a little bit yesterday. She’s girly and very cute girl. (Someone you) can quickly become friendly with kind of feeling? Moreover, what (do you) mean it has nothing to do with me?

ジョン: いや、なんでもないんだ。香さんだったっけ?彼女はどんな男が好きそうなの?
John: No, it’s nothing. Kaori-san, was it? What kind of boy does it seem she’ll like?

アリス: えっ?そんなこと、初対面では分からないでしょう?でも、そうだね。見た感じでは、ジョンみたいな軽い男は絶対タイプじゃないでしょうね。
Alice: Huh? (You) wouldn’t know that kind of think on (a) first meeting, right? Let’s see. By the look of things, boy(s) that don’t take anything seriously like John will definitely not be (her) type, most likely.

ジョン: おい、俺のことを勘違いしていないか?
John: Hey, aren’t (you) misunderstanding the kind of person I am?

リー: そうだよ、アリスちゃん。ジョンはバカっぽいなだけだよ。
Lee: That’s right, Alice-chan. John is like a dummy, that’s all.

アリス: いいえ、正真正銘のバカよ。
Alice: No, (he’s a) genuine idiot.

Various degrees of certainty

There are various vocabulary words that can express various degrees of certainty, some of which is listed below. But beyond memorizing additional vocabulary, we also need to learn a number of sentence endings that also indicate various degrees of certainty.

  1. 絶対 【ぜっ・たい】 – absolutely, without a doubt
  2. きっと – surely
  3. 多分 【た・ぶん】 – probably, perhaps, more likely than not

Indicating a fair amount of certainty

You will often hear 「でしょう」 at the very end of the sentence during, for instance, a weather forecast. It is used to express a fair amount of certainty when used with a flat intonation.


  1. 夜 【よる】 – evening
  2. 雨 【あめ】 – rain
  3. 降る 【ふ・る】(u-verb) – to precipitate
  4. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  5. 晴れる 【は・れる】(ru-verb) – to be sunny
  1. 夜には、雨が降るでしょう
    At night, (it will) likely rain.
  2. 明日は、晴れるでしょう
    Tomorrow (will) likely be sunny.

In casual situations, when expressed with a rising intonation, it is used to seek agreement similar to 「ね」. However, while 「ね」 is used for what the speaker believes to be generally agreeable, 「でしょう」 can be more assertive and opinionated. 「だろう」 is another more masculine version of the casual usage of 「でしょう」.


  1. 間に合う 【ま・に・あ・う】(u-verb, exp) – to be in time for
  2. 言う 【い・う】(u-verb) – to say
  3. 時間 【じ・かん】 – time
  4. ある(u-verb) – to exist
  5. まだ – yet; still
  6. 大丈夫 【だい・じょう・ぶ】 – ok
  1. 間に合わないと言ったでしょう
    (I) said won’t make it in time, didn’t I?
  2. 時間があるから、まだ大丈夫だろう
    There’s time so (it’s) probably still ok.

Indicating a possibility

「かもしれない」 is another sentence ending that expresses a neutral possibility with about 50% level of confidence. It is simply the 「か」 and 「も」 particles combined with the potential negative form of 「知る」 (literally meaning “can’t know even if…”). This means that it conjugates just like any other negative ru-verb.


  1. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  2. 遅い 【おそ・い】(i-adj) – late
  3. なる(u-verb) – to become
  4. 他 【ほか】 – other
  5. 店 【みせ】 – store
  6. 方 【ほう】 – direction
  7. 安い 【やす・い】(i-adj) – cheap
  1. 明日は遅くなるかもしれない
    Might be late tomorrow.
  2. 他の店の方が安いかもしれません
    Another store may be cheaper.

For casual situations, this grammar can be shortened to just 「かも」.

  1. ドア – door
  2. 鍵 【かぎ】 – key
  3. かける (ru-verb) – to hang; to lock
  4. 忘れる 【わす・れる】 (ru-verb) – to forget
  5. ケーキ – cake
  6. まだ – yet; still
  7. 残る 【のこ・る】 (u-verb) – to remain; to be left
  1. あっ、ドアに鍵をかけるのを忘れたかも
    Oh, (I) might have forgot to lock the door!
  2. ケーキはまだ残っているかもよ。
    There might be some cake left still, you know.

Expressing wonder/doubt

We can use 「でしょう」 or 「だろう」 with the question marker 「か」 to question whether something is actually true. This is often used to express doubt or reflection.


  1. これ – this
  2. いい (i-adj) – good
  3. 果たして 【は・たして】 – as was expected; really? (in questions)
  4. 謎 【なぞ】 – puzzle; riddle
  5. 解ける 【と・ける】 (ru-verb) – to be solved; to come untied
  6. 者 【もの】 – person
  7. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  1. これでよかったのでしょうか
    Was it ok like this (I wonder)?
  2. 果たしてこのなぞを解ける者はいるんだろうか
    Will there be someone who can solve this riddle?

For casual situations, we can attach 「かな」 to the end of a sentence.


  1. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  2. どうして – why
  3. そんな – that sort of; that extent
  4. すぐ – soon
  5. キレる – to lose temper (slang from 【切れる】)
  1. これでよかったかな
    Was ok like this (I wonder)?
  2. 彼女はどうしてそんなにすぐキレるかな
    Why does she lose (her) temper that soon (I wonder)?

Recalling a memory

The sentence-ending particle 「っけ」 is used to describe something you’re trying to recall such as a vague memory or something you recently forgot.


  1. あれ – that (over there); huh?
  2. 鍵 【かぎ】 – key
  3. どこ – where
  4. 置く 【お・く】 (u-verb) – to put, to place
  5. 彼 【かれ】 – he; boyfriend
  6. 名前 【な・まえ】 – name
  7. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  1. あれ?かぎをどこに置いたっけ
    Huh? Where did (I) place (the) key(s)?
  2. 彼の名前は何でしたっけ
    What was his name again?


  1. 料理 【りょう・り】 – cooking
  2. 下手 【へた】(na-adj) – unskilled, bad at
  3. ただいま – expression for coming back home (I’m home)
  4. お母さん 【お・かあ・さん】 – mother (polite)
  5. 買い物 【か・い・もの】 – shopping
  6. 出かける 【で・かける】(ru-verb) – to go out
  7. いつ – when
  8. 帰る 【かえ・る】 (u-verb) – to go home
  9. 来る 【く・る】 (exception) – to come
  10. たった今 【たった・いま】 – just now
  11. 家 【いえ】 – house
  12. 出る 【で・る】 (ru-verb) – to come out
  13. ~時 【~じ】 – counter for hours; ~ o’clock
  14. ぐらい – approximately, around
  15. そう – (things are) that way
  16. お腹 【お・なか】 – stomach
  17. 空く 【す・く】 (u-verb) – to become empty
  18. お父さん 【お・とう・さん】 – father (polite)
  19. 何か 【なに・か】 – something
  20. 作る 【つく・る】 (u-verb) – to make
  21. 簡単 【かん・たん】 (na-adj) – simple
  22. 物 【もの】 – object

Alice: I’m home. What about Mom?

Dad: (She) went out for shopping.

Alice: When is (she) coming back home?

Dad: (She) just left (the) house so (she’ll) probably come back home around 9:00.

Alice: Is that so? Ah, (I’m) hungry!

Dad: Then shall dad make something?

Alice: Dad, (you’re) bad at cooking, right?

Dad: (I) might be able to make something simple, you know?

Alice: Is that so (you think)?

Expressing potential

Potential Form

The potential form describes the feasibility of an action. The rules for changing a verb into the potential form is given below. All verbs in the potential form become ru-verbs.

Rules for conjugating to potential form

  • For ru-verbs: Replace the 「る」 with 「られる」

    1. 食べ+られる = 食べられる
    2. +られる = 出られる
  • For u-verbs: Replace the u-vowel sound with the e-vowel equivalent and attach 「る」.

    1. +め+る = 飲める
    2. +て+る = 持てる
  • Exceptions:
    1. する → 出来る【で・き・る】
    2. くる → こられる
    3. ある → あり得る 【あり・うる/あり・える】


  1. 漢字 【かん・じ】 – Kanji
  2. 読む 【よ・む】(u-verb) – to read
  3. 明日 【あした】 – tomorrow
  4. 仕事 【し・ごと】 – work
  5. 今日 【きょう】 – today
  6. 飲む 【の・む】(u-verb) – to drink
  7. イベント – event
  8. 準備 【じゅん・び】 – preparation
  9. ~まで (particle) – until ~
  10. 出来る 【で・き・る】(ru-verb) – to be able to do
  1. 漢字は読めますか?
    Can (you) read Kanji?
  2. 明日は仕事だから、今日はあまり飲めない
    Tomorrow is work so can’t drink very much today.
  3. イベントの準備は明日まで出来る
    Can (you) do preparations for (the) event by tomorrow?

For ru-verbs, you can drop the 「ら」 from 「れる」. For example, the potential form 「食べる」 can also be expressed as 「食べれる」 instead of 「食べれる」. However, you should practice with the full conjugation as the shorter form is more casual.


  1. バス – bus
  2. ~時 【~じ】 – hour counter
  3. 出る 【で・る】(ru-verb) – to come out
  4. 起きる 【お・きる】 (ru-verb) – to occur; to awake
  5. 気分 【き・ぶん】 – feeling
  6. 悪い 【わる・い】(i-adj) – bad
  7. あまり – not very (when used with negative)
  1. バスは、7時に出るから、5時に起きれる
    Bus is leaving at 7 so (are you) able to wake up at 5?

  2. 気分が悪いから、今日はあまり食べれない
    Don’t feel good (lit:feeling is bad) so can’t eat very much today.

Events that are possible

Another way to express potential is to use the noun for a generic event: 「こと」(事) and 「できる」. This is used to describe an event that is possible and is more generic than conjugating the verb directly to the potential form.


  1. ここ – here
  2. タバコ – cigarette
  3. 出来る 【で・き・る】(ru-verb) – to be able to do
  4. 吸う 【す・う】 – to breathe in; to smoke
  5. こと – matter; event
  6. この – this
  7. テレビ – TV
  8. 番組 【ばん・ぐみ】 – program (e.g. TV)
  9. まだ – not yet
  10. インターネット – internet
  11. 見る 【み・る】(ru-verb) – to see
  1. ここでタバコを吸うことは、できますか
    Able to smoke cigarette here?
  2. このテレビ番組はまだインターネットで見ることができません
    Not able to watch this TV show on the internet yet.

As you can see from the examples, this pattern is used to describe what is possible (or not) in general rather than for a specific person or thing.

Other potential verbs

  1. 見える 【み・える】 – to be visible
  2. 聞こえる 【き・こえる】 – to be audible
  3. あり得る 【あり・うる/あり・える】 – able to exist

The potential form of 「見る」 and 「聞く」 (「見られる」 and 「聞ける」 respectively) are only used to describe the ability to see and hear, not whether something is visible or audible. Japanese has two separate verbs to describe the latter: 「見える」 and 「聞こえる」. The examples below show the difference between the ability or capability to see/hear versus what is visible/audible.


  1. 後ろ 【うし・ろ】 – behind
  2. 画像 【が・ぞう】 – screen; image; picture
  3. パソコン – PC, computer
  4. 古い 【ふる・い】(i-adj) – old
  5. 遅い 【おそ・い】(i-adj) – late; slow
  6. 動画 【どう・が】 – video
  7. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  8. 声 【こえ】 – voice
  9. ラジオ – radio
  10. ネット – net, network, internet
  1. 後ろから画像が見えますか?
    Can (you) see the screen from the back? (lit: Is the screen visible from the back?)
  2. パソコンが古くて遅いから、動画が見られない
    Computer is old and slow so not able to see video. (lit: Because computer is old and slow, not capable of seeing video.
  3. 私の声が聞こえますか?
    Can (you) hear my voice? (lit: Is my voice audible?)
  4. ラジオもネットで聞けるの?
    (You) can listen to radio on (the) net as well? (lit: Able to hear radio on (the) net as well?)

Another verb to pay attention to is 「ある」, which cannot be conjugated to the potential form. Instead, to express that something can exist, you must use the verb 「あり得る」. This verb is very curious in that 「得」 can either be read as 「う」 or 「え」 but if conjugated, it must always be read as 「え」. You may wonder how often one talks about the ability to exist. In practice, this word is primarily used to describe whether a situation or event (こと) can occur.


  1. それは、ありるね。
    That could happen. (lit: That can exist.)
  2. それは、ありるね。
    That could happen. (lit: That can exist.)
  3. それは、ありないよ。
    That can never happen. (lit: That can’t exist.)


  1. 大事 【だい・じ】(na-adj) – important
  2. 漢字 【かん・じ】 – Kanji
  3. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 – homework
  4. 使う 【つか・う】(u-verb) – to use
  5. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 – not at all (when used with negative)
  6. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) – read
  7. うまい (i-adj) – skilled; delicious
  8. 書く 【か・く】(u-verb) – to write
  9. なるべく – as much as possible
  10. 練習 【れん・しゅう】 – practice
  11. 俺 【おれ】- me, myself (slang, masculine)
  12. 写す 【うつ・す】(u-verb) – to copy
  13. 日本語 【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese language
  14. たくさん – a lot (amount)
  15. それに – besides, moreover
  16. そもそも – in the first place, originally
  17. あんた – you (slang)
  18. 見せる 【み・せる】(ru-verb) – to show
  19. 自分 【じ・ぶん】 – oneself
  20. 時 【とき】 – when
  21. こっそり – secretly
  22. つもり – intention
  23. もう – already; expression of exasperation
  24. 信じる 【しん・じる】 (ru-verb) – to believe

John: Alice-chan, what (are you) doing?

Alice: Homework.

John: What is this? (Are you) using Kanji? (I) can’t read (it) at all.

Alice: (I) can’t write Kanji well yet so (I’m) using Kanji as much as possible and practicing.

John: I don’t use Kanji at all so (I) can’t copy Alice-chan’s homework, you know.

Alice: Japanese uses a lot of Kanji so (it’s) good to practice as much as possible. Besides, (I) won’t show you (my) homework to you in the first place. (You) can’t do (your) homework by yourself?

John: (My) intention was to secretly copy (it) when Alice-chan is not there.

Alice: (I) can’t believe it.

Chapter Overview

Culturally, Japanese people tend to only be assertive when they’re absolutely sure of something. For less certain situations, Japanese has many ways to express exactly how certain or uncertain something is. In this chapter, we will learn how to express various degrees of certainty about things that are possible, probable, and conditional.