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Causative Verbs

October 31, 2013

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I had my students learn these patterns…

Causative verbs are just what they sound like: verbs where one person is “causing” another to do something. English has three true causative verbs: have, let, and make.

This grammar target has a special pattern that often confuses students because it requires a base verb where an infinitive verb would normally go. Once we present the pattern to our students and they see some examples, they should be able to remember to use the base form.

It’s also important to point out the other verbs with a similar meaning that are not, in fact, causative verbs. Verbs such as get, force, allow, and cause take an infinitive verb, not a base verb.

Causative Verbs resource

Causative Verbs: Have, Let, Make – Grammar & Usage Resources

I. Causative Verbs

Have, Let & Make

Subject (person) + Have / Let / Make + Object (person) + Base Verb

The verbs have, let, and make follow this irregular pattern when they have the meaning of causing someone to do something. These verbs are pretty common in English and are usually introduced around an intermediate level. From strongest to weakest, the causative verbs are make, have, and let.

It’s important to give examples with both singular and plural objects as well as different tenses so that students truly understand that a base verb is required, not just a present verb. I find the biggest mistakes textbooks make is that they only give examples in the present tense. I’ve often had students tell me that they didn’t “get it” until they saw an example in the past tense.

  • I had my friends tell me what happened. (not told)
  • She will let her friend borrow her new jacket. (not borrows or will borrow)
  • Mark’s teacher makes him do homework every day. (not does)

The subject and object of causative sentences are usually people, but things are also possible.

  • The heavy rain made the paint peel off the building.
  • The phone message made him feel nervous.
  • We let the dogs run wild at the beach.

Also, the imperative verb form (no subject) is common with causative verbs, since both causatives and imperatives are used for giving orders.

  • Have Mr. Smith call me.
  • Let the dogs go outside after dinner.
  • Make her secretary type out the report.

II. Non-Causative Verbs

Get, Force, Allow & Cause

Subject + Get / Force / Allow / Cause + Object (person) + Infinitive Verb

All other verbs, outside of the three causative verbs, will follow the “normal” pattern of noun + infinitive. This pattern occurs for most verbs regardless of meaning (e.g., My friend wants me to come to the party or She asked me to help her).

There are other verbs that have the meaning of cause, but because they aren’t true causative verbs, they take an infinitive verb form instead of a base verb. Common verbs are, from strongest to weakest: force, cause, get, and allow.

Get, especially, is very common, so make sure you remind your students that it always takes an infinitive verb, and give your students plenty of examples.

  • He got his friend to help him move.
  • My mother forces me to practice the piano every day.
  • Our teacher is going to allow us to go home early today.
  • The test is causing them to panic. It’s really difficult.

III. The Passive Causative

Get & Have

Subject (person) + Have / Get + Object (thing) + Past Participle

Can causative sentences be passive? Yes! The passive causative is quite common for services. For more information, see our blog post on the Passive Causative.

  • He had his car fixed (by a mechanic).
  • She got her hair cut yesterday.
  • My sister got her nails done.
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Comments (53)

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Regina Thomas(Guest)

Hi! Thanks for posting about causative verbs. This explains clearly how to use them. I'm teaching grammar and I've been searching google about causative verbs. I've bookmarked this site.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for your comment, Regina! Happy to hear that you found this post useful.

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Scott (Guest)

Hi I am a bit confused looking at different websites on causative verbs.

Can you explain to me why we would say:
I had my house painted. Why is the verb in past rather than the base form?

Thanks

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great question, Scott.

'I had my house painted' is an example of the Passive Causative. It's a combination of a Causative sentence (the verb Have, and the meaning of making someone do something) and the Passive (by someone). You are saying 'I had my house painted by someone.'

The pattern for the Passive Causative is: have or get + object (thing) + past participle (+ by someone, which is usually dropped).

So 'painted' in this case isn't the past---it's the past participle. Other examples are 'I got my hair cut' or 'I had the letter written by my secretary.'

I plan to do a full blog post on this soon, but I hope this helped for now! :)

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Charlie (Guest)

Hello,I would like to ask there is one causative mistake here in this question.how to change it to be right

Has Betty come and see me in the office,please.

Big thx!!

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Charlie,

The correct sentence is:

Have Betty come and see me in the office, please.

This is a causative sentence (with 'have' as the causative verb). 'Have' is in the imperative form, which is used when giving an order/command/instruction. The subject of the imperative form (which gets dropped/omitted) is always 'you', which is why the verb is 'have', not 'has'. The meaning is this: I'm instructing you to make Betty come to my office. I.e., I'm giving you an order (imperative form of 'have') for you to cause Betty come and see me (causative verb 'have' + base verbs 'come' and 'see').

Hope that helps! :)

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Charlie (Guest)

Hello Miss Tanya!!im very appreciate that you sent time on my question !you are better than any teachers in my schools that solved my problem in detail !i also have some questions this time and I have already sent to your email ,can we contact from email?thank you!

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome, Charlie! I'm glad I could help. Thank you for your kind words!

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Charlie (Guest)

Miss Tanya,I sent to your email once again ,thank you!

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

I emailed you back! Good luck.

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Silvio (Guest)

Hello Tanya, is it correct to say: 'I had him not buy sugar.' Thank you in advance.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Silvio,

It sounds strange to use 'not' before 'buy'. Usually we would use it before the causative verb: 'I didn't have him buy sugar.' (In this case, you were going to have him buy sugar, but changed your mind.) I think that 'not' will always sound better before the causative verb (and will always be correct). It usually won't be correct before the second verb, though I suppose there may be exceptions when you really want to emphasize not doing the second verb.

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Silvio (Guest)

Tanya, thank you very much for your precious answer. You got it. I had him buy something at the grocery, but I asked him not to buy sugar, because we were plenty of it. So I didn't have him do something, but I had him not do something. How does it sound? Thanks again. Have a good day.

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Nikita (Guest)

Hi, thank you for such an informative piece. Could you tell me that which part of speech will the base verb (infinitive without 'to') be? Will it be a noun, adjective, or adverb?
'He made the fear go away.'
Thank you

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Nikita,

Good question. This is something that I've never thought of before! I would say that the base verb still functions as a verb in that position. It's not the main verb, but it doesn't take on another function the way a gerund or infinitive would (noun function). If we look at another example, it becomes clearer:

  • He made her do her homework. ('Do' isn't an object of 'made.' It is the verb/action of 'her' in a sense: 'She did her homework.')

Another case like this is with an adjective or adverb phrase. Within the phrase, the participle still functions as a verb.

  • After she called [verb of adverb clause] me, she went [main verb] to sleep.
  • After calling [verb of adverb phrase, reduced to a participle] me, she went [main verb] to sleep.

In those examples above, though, the infinitive 'to sleep' functions as a noun (it's the object of the verb 'went').

Hope that helps!

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Sarah (Guest)

Hi!
Thanks a lot for such great information !!!
Im an English learner from Iran and this web was really useful !
thanks again !

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

That's great to hear, Sarah! Best of luck with your English studies.

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achmad (Guest)

'Common verbs are, from strongest to weakest: force, cause, get, and allow.'
the force was the most non-Causative verb. was that what you mean at the sentece above?

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Achmad,

You got it! Force, cause, get, and allow aren't true causative verbs. Force has the strongest meaning—it is often used when you're making someone do something against their will (that they don't want to do). Allow has the weakest meaning because in that case, someone usually wants to do something.

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