第322課: ら抜き言葉

ら抜き is the dropping of ら in the auxiliary verb ~られる when used to show potential. Although it is deemed improper by many speakers, it is important to point out that the independent potential verb forms of 五段 did not exist as ‘standard’ Japanese 150 years ago. This lesson will be about how ら抜き is being used in the current speech of a growing majority. 


ら抜き, again, is the dropping of ら in the auxiliary  ~られる. The ease of conjugation is quite obvious. ~れる attaches the exact same way as ~られる does.

 Verb Class Base Conjugation Example 例文
 上一段活用動詞 未然形 見る+れる → 見れる テレビ{が・を}見れる
 下一段活用動詞 未然形 食べる +れる → 食べれる ピザ{が・を}食べれる 

Grammar is a living entity defined by current speakers. It is not surprising that this innovation came about because ~られる has three other usages! It is also used to make passives, phrases of spontaneity, and light honorific phrases. 

 Mistaking Words?

Because ~れる only has the potential meaning, there is assurance that you are only purveying the potential meaning. The one unforeseen consequence of this contraction is that there are now phrases that have become homophonous, although intonation is usually different. As is the case with any set of homophones, context will always save the day.

1. 古い服を着れた!
    I was able to wear my old clothes! 

2. ハサミでよく切れた!
     I was able to cut it well with scissors!

3. あの人は、ある程度練れた文章を書けました。 
    That person was able to write to a certain degree a well-rounded composition.

4. 寝れない夜を過ごしてる。
    I'm spending sleepless nights. 

5. とりあえず何とか完成して送れた。
    For the time being, I somehow finished it and was able to send it.  

6. ひどい交通渋滞で遅れた。
    I was late due to horrible congestion. 

Word Form Note: Ex. 5 and 6 show us that this talk of confusion is void. 送れる is not ら抜き and is the proper potential form of 送る. 

7. 大雨が降ってこんなとこに居れるわけない。
     There's no way I'll be able to stay here in this rain. 

8. サクランボを容器に入れる。 
     To put cherries in a container. 

 More Info on ら抜き言葉

In formal writing, ら抜き言葉 is almost non-existent, but in day-to-day writing, it is appearing more frequently. Change is often discouraged when in progress. So, for this reason, you'll likely only see it in the news when someone is being quoted. However, there may come a day when this becomes part of Standard Japanese.

 Treating it as Dialectical?

What about the dialects in which ら抜き is the standard? They are probably under influence from regions which say it’s backward, but because it is the standard in these regions and it is becoming standard elsewhere, it’s hard to imagine any of these regions reverting to the current ‘standard’.

 Frequency of Use

Some verbs will be more commonly used with ~れる than others. For instance, in casual speech, one may easily say 見れる, 来れる, 食べれる, しゃべれる and the like. It is less likely extended to verbs in which the resulting phrase is relatively harder to pronounce (or harder to roll off the tongue). 

9. いつまで続けれるのか。
    How long can...continue?

10. なかなか準備し始めれないんだ。
   I can't seem to start preparing. 

 Speech Style

Register refers to speech style in social context. Say you are the boss of a company and wish to enforce ‘proper language’ habits on your employees. This is a very understandable situation in modern Japan, and in honorifics, new colloquialisms are not easily accepted, and in the case of honorifics, potential phrases are avoided to begin with. Some people go so far as to say ~れます instead of ~られます in casual, polite speech is an abomination. Continue to see more examples of this as years go by. Some claim that people are beginning to use this in honorifics, but this is hard to believe. It is more likely the person intended to use the potential form to his boss, which is a マナー違反 to begin with.

11. 何時に来れますか。
   When can you come?

Relation with other Auxiliaries

It is important to note that ら抜き is not be used with older (usages of) auxiliaries.

12. 見られよう → 見れよう X 

In speaking of other auxiliaries, people very frequently use the ~よう conjugation to correct people to use ~られる. So, you may find people saying, if you use ~よう for a verb, then you should use ~られる. Another example is using the 命令形. If you drop る from the potential and don’t get a valid command form, then you can’t use ~れる. As 五段 verbs would only work, 見れる is invalid because 見れ is invalid. This opinion is cute, but there are dialects which allow for the imperatives of 一段 verbs to end in れ. So, for certain regions of Japan, this analogy would not work.  

 Odd Dialectical Phenomena

In some dialects such as 広島弁, corruptions such as 行けれる can be found. This resembles the slang phenomenon by a minority of speakers to take ~られる and attach it to the 連用形 of the 短縮形 (shortened form) of the potential. Ex. 出す → 出せられる. This, though, like 行けれる are deemed to be errors by most Japanese speakers.  

More Examples

13. 早く()きれねーよ。(Vulgar)
       I can't wake up early!

14. お金払わないと、得れないもんだ。
   It's something you can't get without paying money.

15. ハイしか答えれないんだ。
   All I can response with is "ハイ”.

16. こうして食べると野菜もたくさん食べれるね。
  If you eat this way, you can eat a lot of vegetables. 

17. いつもよりたくさん食べれた。
   I was able to eat a lot more than usual. 

18. (Aさんは)きのうの雨で熱が出て来れないようだ。
(A-san) doesn't seem to be able to come because he got a fever from the rain yesterday.

19. 出かけれそうにない。
      It doesn't seem I have a chance at going out. 

20. うまくボールを蹴れない。
      I can't kick the ball well. 

21. あと一歩で教室から出れるところで、ドアが突然閉まった。
Just when I was one step away from being able to leave the classroom, the door suddenly shut.