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The Passive Causative

February 20, 2014

The students had the grammar explained to them by their teacher…

Do your students understand the passive voice? Sure. Have they mastered causative verbs? Yep. But do they realize that causative verbs can be passive too? What?

Don’t let the passive causative cause your students any angst. Try presenting it using the method below, and wait for that Aha moment!

What Is the Passive Causative?

Causative verbs (have, let, make) are used when one person is causing another to do something. The passive is used when the focus is on the thing instead of the person. When you combine them together, you are essentially saying someone caused something to be done (by someone).

Screenshot of ESL Library's The Passive Causative resource

The Passive Causative – Grammar & Usage Resources

Why “Get”?

Since the causative verbs are have, let, and make, students might be wondering why the passive causative is formed with have or get. Get is possible for two reasons:

  1. Get is the casual passive form. Instead of the problem was solved, you can say the problem got solved.
  2. Get also has a causative meaning. You can say I got someone to do something, with the meaning of cause or force. However, because it’s not a true causative verb, the base verb is not used, and an infinitive verb is used instead (which is the normal case for a second verb in a sentence after an object). See our Causative Verbs post for more information.

One More Example…

I got my hair cut is probably one of the most commonly used passive causative sentences around. But because cut is an irregular verb that has the same form for the past participle as it does for the base verb, it’s a good idea to give students another example with a verb that changes forms. Try showing them these sentences:

Causative: The manager had the assistant write the report.
Passive: The report was/got written (by the assistant).
Passive Causative: The manager had/got the report written (by the assistant).


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Comments (68)

David Ullieth Blandford(Guest)

I´m glad I have found a site with a lot of ideas for my students. Thanks a lot.

Reply to Comment

Masoud (Guest)

Hi,how about the ommissiin of by phrase?

AKSIL imane(Guest)

How about ing geround

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siavash (Guest)

thanks a million
im iranian
thanks for teaching me

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome! Thanks for your comment.

Rafael (Guest)

You really saved me ! I had to do alot of hw & I found it here, thanks a million.

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm glad this post helped you, Rafael!

Payman (Guest)

Thanks a lot
You solved our problems I am from Afghanistan

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Great! Thanks for commenting.

Cynthia (Guest)

Hi Tanya,
I was wondering about the following example: 'He got a piece of paper stuck to his arm.'
In this case, I suppose it means that the piece of paper ended up on his arm and he doesn't know how it got there...am I right? Would you say that this is an agentive or a non-agentive expression? I am asking because I have to classify the sentence. Thank you in advance :)

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Cynthia,

Good question! I would say this is non-agentive. You can't say 'He got a piece of paper stuck to his arm by someone' or change it back to 'Someone stuck a piece of paper to his arm.' I believe it is still the passive causative because it follows the pattern, and the subject didn't stick the paper to his arm himself. But unlike most passive causative sentences, we don't know WHO did the second action (we don't know who stuck the piece of paper to his arm), so I think it's safe to say it's non-agentive in this case. Thanks for bringing up this interesting example!

Zahra Ali(Guest)

Thanks billions you saved me alot today we have exam about this causative verb

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Fantastic! Thanks for commenting, Zahra.

reyhaneh (Guest)

thank you so much . it was realy usefull

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Tanya Trusler(Author)

Happy to hear it!

Sadiq (Guest)

Hi. I have another question , if it is possible please answer to!!
How can I change this sentence to passive form.' She works hard to earn money or he works to bring water.
Please change these sentences to the passive form. Thanks

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Sadiq, these two sentences can't really be changed into the passive form with the same meaning. Not all sentences work in the passive. The best you could do would be to say something like 'The money was earned by her hard work' and 'The water was brought by him'.

Prof. Richard J. Cadena(Guest)

I am looking for diagrammed sentences using the passive causative form (have + noun or pronoun + past participle verb). I am writing a high level grammar based business writing course for senior executives in a Spanish speaking country. I have not found any diagrammed examples of the passive causative. Here is an example:
Multinational companies must - have + a transfer pricing study + performed - for income tax purposes every year.
Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Unfortunately I'm unable to diagram sentences in a comment box like this. However, I think you could easily write your example sentence using the patterns in the PDF above. This would help your students see the different parts and understand how the passive causative was formed. Best of luck to you!

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