The Causative in English

Published by englistation on September 25, 2020

causative

We are going to discuss the English causative construction in this article. And this will make you feel so much better!

Meaning

What is a causative construction? Causation means that one person causes another person or thing to do something, for example:

I made him cry.

He got the mechanic to repair his car.

We had a camera installed.

Traditionally the following verbs are called causative verbs and build a so-called causative construction: make, have, get.

 

And just for fun, let me show you with a wikipedia quotation how we linguists like to define this structure:

“In linguistics, a causative is a valency-increasing operation that indicates that a subject either causes someone or something else to do or be something or causes a change in state of a non-volitional event.”

 

Types of causative

And now, let’s see the two basic constructions:

Type 1

When it is explicitly stated and important who is going to perform the action, and that person is part of the structure:

a) subject + causative verb + person performing action + infinitive

Susan                had                            the secretary                                 call me.

I                  didn’t make                         him                                           cry.

They              will make                            you                                           pay for that.

 

However, when the causative verb get is used, the following verb is in the to + infinitive form:

b) subject + causative verb (get) + person performing action + to + infinitive

She                    got                                     the nurse                                        to call the family.

I                     will get                                 the tailor                                         to make a suit.

We                didn’t get                              the babysitter                                       to cook.

 

Type 2

When it is NOT explicitly stated who (or what) is going to perform the action, type 2 is used. And here we can only use have ang get as causative verbs, not make!

  subject + causative verb + object + past participle

We                   got                     a camera         installed.

John          doesn’t have            milk               delivered.

 

This is very similar to a passive construction. Also here, the third form (past participle) of the verb is used, only not after the verb “be” but after the “causative verb”.

And what is the object? The action in the sentence (install, deliver) affects the object (a camera, milk).

As you can see, the word order is very important in these constructions as well.

 

let somebody do

Although the meaning of “let” is not “cause somebody to do” – it means “allow somebody to do something” – , grammars typically discuss it with this structure. Probably because it is used in the same way, structurally:

She didn’t let me go.

I let the children play outside all day.

They let him go home after three days.

 

Of course you can practise this with our tests. Don’t forget to register to have access to all tests and features.

 

 

english causative table