346 - 得る(うる、える)

JLPT N2 Grammar: 得る(うる、える

得る is a verb which means something like "to get," "to acquire," "to obtain."

But when it is used as an auxiliary verb (i.e. when it attaches to the end of other verbs, which is quite common), it means something like “can do V,” or “V-able”

It is primarily used in written Japanese, but can be spoken in formal situations.

The reading of 得る can be a bit difficult, as sometimes it is read える and other times うる.

For the most part it is read as える. In fact, if the verb is in masu-form, past tense, or negative form, it will always use える:えます、えた、えない. Another negative form you may see is えぬ.

You will only see うる just like that: as "うる." So when in doubt, choose える.


Here is the construction...

We take verbs:

予防する(よぼうする // to prevent [=prevention + do]
なる(to become

Then we attach 得る to their masu-stems:

Vmasu-stem + 得る
予防し + 得る = preventable (can be prevented)
なり + 得る = can become


Now let’s look at some example sentences:

吐き気や倦怠感、脱毛などが、起こり得る副作用です。
はきけ や けんたいかん、 だつもう など が、 おこりうる ふくさよう です。
Nausea, fatigue, and hair loss are possible side effects.
Literally: “nausea + や + fatigue + hair loss + etc + が + possible to occur + side effects + です”


10兆円と言われても、我々一般人には想像し得ぬ金額だ。
じゅっちょうえん と いわれても、 われわれ いっぱんじん に は そうぞう しえぬ きんがく だ。
If you say 10 trillion yen, us ordinary people can’t imagine that amount.
Literally: “10 trillion yen + と + if you say + us + ordinary people + に + は + imagination + can’t do + amount + だ”


In the above sentence 得ぬ is used, meaning 得ない (えない) or “not possible.” When attached to the Vmasu-stem of する which is し, it becomes し得ぬ or “can’t do.” So we could have put し得ぬ or し得ない.


あいつは犯人しか知り得ない情報を知っている。怪しいぞ。
あいつ は はんにん しか しりえない じょうほう を しっている。 あやしい ぞ。
He knows information only a criminal could know. It's suspicious.
Literally: “he + は + criminal + unless + impossible to know + information + を + knows. + suspicious + ぞ “


年齢や性別を問わず、誰でも性犯罪の被害者になり得る
ねんれい や せいべつ を とわず、 だれでも せいはんざい の ひがいしゃ に なりうる。
Regardless of age or gender, anyone can become a victim of a sex crime.
Literally: “age + や + gender + を + regardless + anyone + sex crime + の + victim + に + possible to become”


宇宙人が存在するなんて、絶対にあり得ない
うちゅうじん が そんざい する なんて、 ぜったい に ありえない。
There's no way that aliens could exist.
Literally: “aliens + が + exist + do + things like + absolutely + impossible”


Feeling overwhelmed?

Well it may comfort you to know that the verbs most commonly used with ~得る tend to have dictionary entries of their own:

あり得る(ありえる [ありうる] // to be possible [likely; probable]
あり得ない(ありえない // impossible; no way!
起こり得る(おこりうる // to be possible to occur

Also, for additional information on 得る, you can check out this lesson: [NDL #225] - Kanji Closeup: 得.

Once you learn 得る you will be surprised how often you see it in the wild. It is such a useful expression to know and understand. And it's surprising to know where some of the most common phrases come from.

See if you can create a few example sentences of your own using 得る. Remember to keep it a bit formal while you are practicing.


This lesson was written by Cassy L., a guest contributor:


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