Causative Verbs

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: havelet, 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 getforceallow, and causetake an infinitive verb, not a base verb.

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.

  • 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.

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

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