Grammar and Usage

What are Causative Verbs?


Did you know that philosophy and linguistics overlap in their view that many or all fundamental truths can be viewed through the lens of language? It’s true!

And now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with causative verbs.  I’ll let you know later on in the lesson, but let me tell you what we’ll cover first.

Today you’ll learn how we define true causative verbs, the causative verb structure of the sentence in the declarative, interrogative, and imperative form.

You’ll learn how to use modals with a causative structure, the nuanced meaning behind each verb, and the relationship with the subject object or agent.

And of course, I’ll answer the question why philosophers like to ponder on the meaning of causative verbs.

As you can see, this is a jam-packed lesson, so take your time, pause through the sections  and re-watch the video if you need to.

What are causative verbs?

Causative verbs are verbs that indicate that someone or something, the causer, directly causes another person or thing, the causee to do something.

A sentence with a causative verb can be thought of this way: the subject causes the agent or object to perform an action.

Sentences with a causative verb start with a subject which is followed by the causative verb.

The sentence then continues with an object of a causative verb followed by the main verb that is directly performed by the object.

The subject does not perform the action expressed by the main verb but rather causes the object to perform the action.

Let’s break this down because it sounds confusing.

For the purposes of this lesson, I will refer to the subject as the causer and the agent or object performing the action of the main verb as the causee.

Think of employer employee.

In a regular sentence structure, the subject performs the action of the main verb.

The subject is called the agent, like in this example.

Mark cleans his room.

Mark is performing the action of the main verb clean.

But in the causative structure, the object of the causative verb is now the agent and this object is the one performing the action of the main verb.

Mark made his brother clean his room.

Notice that in this causative structure we have two verbs: we have the causative verb and the main verb.

The causative verb is “made” and the main verb, the base verb or the bare infinitive, is “clean” and the object of the causative verb, his brother, now becomes the agent of the main verb “clean”.

Mark is the causer brother is the causee.

The causative structure is the main clause plus the second clause which includes the object of the causative verb which would now be the agent of the main verb since this verb in the second clause is a bare infinitive and does not show tense.

This second clause is called the non-finite clause and both of these clauses are dependent on each other.

Again what’s unique about causative verbs, aside from the syntactic structure, is that the subject does not perform the action of the main verb but causes the object to perform that action.

And there are many verbs that fall under the causative umbrella, and those refer to verbs that express causation such as allow, cause, get, force, help, permit, etc.

But today we’re going to focus on the three true causative verbs that you’re familiar with, and those are make have and let.

We will look at other verbs that are usually included under the causative category and these are get and help.

So why are make have and let considered the prototypical or true causatives in the English language?

These three verbs follow a specific sentence pattern that the other causatives may not or they carry a connotation that the other causatives do not.

Let’s begin with the three true causatives make have and let let’s start with make.

Most grammarians would agree that make is the main causative verb.

It implies that more force is exerted from the subject, the causer, and that there is greater resistance from the agent the causee, like in this example:

The drill sergeant makes the soldiers do push-ups.

In this example, we see the use of the verb “makes” to show coercion and force. The soldiers do not have a choice. They must do what the drill sergeant makes them do.

Let’s go to have.

There’s minimal resistance.

The context is required because have may be used to describe a service that you pay for, but it can also add an air of status or rank where the causer is higher in status than the causee.

My boss has me proofread all his reports before he submits them to his manager.

Notice that there is some hierarchy here because my boss is my superior, so he has me do it. I have no choice. The force or the coercion used is less than of the verb make and when paying for a service you can use the verb “have”.

Carlos will have his mechanic check the engine for an oil leak.

LET The causer causes something that the causee wants to happen.

It’s implied that the causer has control or authority over the causee because a causer gives permission, allows, or grants the causee his desire.

The resistance is met by the causer. The causee is applying the pressure.

Shania lets her boyfriend wash her car every

This implies that her boyfriend wants to wash the car and Shania doesn’t necessarily want him to but she lets him. She allows him to do it.

GET and HELP are not considered true causatives by most grammarians.

Get is used in the informal or idiomatic form to mean to persuade, or convince, someone to do something.

And help is not technically a causative verb
but it’s thought of as a causative because of its grammatical structure.

When using get and help as causatives, the sentence will have two clauses: the main clause and the non-finite clause.

The only difference is that these verbs will use the to-infinitive.

And for help we’ll use the to-infinitive or the bare infinitive.

The bare infinitive is commonly used among native speakers.

I got my parents to let me go to the party

In this sentence, the verb get means to persuade.

Perhaps the parents didn’t want to let me go to the party, but I convinced them.

Now one thing that is interesting about the verb get is that when used in the passive voice it means the same thing as have and we will study the passive causative in an

upcoming lesson.

I help my mom fix dinner.

Now you can also say I helped my mom to fix dinner, but using the bare infinitive is more common.


Let’s look at more examples using different sentence types: declarative interrogative and imperative and we’ll also look at modals
in the causative structure.

Now let’s address the topic of why philosophers like to ponder on causative verbs.

Remember that language is central to human life, culture, and cognition.

With language we talk and argue. We formulate ideas and express emotion by
the slightest nuance of expression. The question of how language carries out these
expressive and communicative functions has concerned philosophers since Plato.

The topic?


In causative structures, the amount of force, coercion, and persuasion that is met by resistance, lack of power, or hierarchy of the causee
in relationship to the causer is always debated. Both wills of the causer and the causee are at play. And depending on the social context, the influence of the causer, one exerts greater power overthe other. According to linguistic philosophers, the use of causatives imply that the language we use in society (when the causee takes the will of the causer) the causee’s will is intact and remains independent of the causer.

This is debatable but this is especially true of the verbs make, get and have. Like in these examples: Mother made me eat my vegetables. Mother’s will is forced over mine. I had no choice. My will didn’t change. I still didn’t want to eat my vegetables, but mother made me.

Our teacher had the students memorize all
the continents.

Again, the students had no choice.  Their will perhaps did not change, but the will of the teacher was imposed on them. The teenage girl got her parents to let her
stay past midnight.

Here the willl of the causee was imposed on the parents.

The girl persuaded.

This has exceptions because coercion is not always apparent.

Like in this example: James’ flirtatious glances made me blush.

The amount of coercion or force of his glances made me blush.

I did not want to blush, but it made me.

And this is why linguistic philosophers like to think about causative verbs: how one person can affect the will of the other.

One thing to note is that context plays a role in language. And communication, societal roles, norms and
behaviors that are expected within the interactions of the causer and the causee will determine the amount of coercion or resistance and thus the causative verb that will be used when
describing the situation.

Remember to go back and review the parts of the lesson that you didn’t understand.

It is a complex issue.

I wanted to go a little deeper today in this lesson beyond what you have probably learned about causative verbs, beyond the simple structure.

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