Causative Verbs  

What is a causative verb?

A causative verb, as the name implies, indicates that a person, place, or thing is causing an action or event to happen. Generally, a causative verb is followed by its direct object (a noun or pronoun) and a non-causative verb, which describes the resulting action the subject has caused.
Most often, the non-causative verb will be in its base (uninflected) form or, more commonly, its infinitive form (the base form plus the particle to); however, there are some other constructions that can be used in certain circumstances. It’s also worth pointing out that, even though they can only be followed by certain conjugations of verbs, causative verbs themselves can be conjugated into all of their normal tenses.

Causative Verbs Followed by Base-Form Verbs

The most common causative verbs are make, let, and have, each of which is almost always followed by a non-causative verb in its base form. These are the only causative verbs that are followed by base-form verbs. (Because of this, some sources list them as being the only “true” causative verbs, with other verbs merely functioning like causative verbs. However, this distinction is not very meaningful or helpful in itself, because the function of the other causative verbs is pretty much the same.)
Let’s go over some examples of these three verbs being used in sentences when followed by base-form non-causative verbs. We’ll also look at instances in which make and have can be followed by other conjugations. (In all of the examples in this section, causative verbs will be in bold, while non-causative verbs will be in italics.)

make

In contrast to its primary definition of “to create or bring into existence,” we use make as a causative verb to indicate that someone or something has forced or compelled an action or event to occur. For example:
  • “My mom is making me go to piano lessons this summer.”
  • “Don’t make me turn this car around!”
  • “She made her girlfriend buy her a different ring.”
Make can also be followed by an infinitive non-causative verb, but only if it is used in the passive voice, which is when the subject is the recipient of the verb’s action. For example:
  • “I’m sorry that you were made to believe such a nasty story, but it simply isn’t true.”
  • “Employees are often made to feel responsible for a company’s misfortunes.”

let

The primary use and definition of let is as a causative verb, meaning “to allow, permit, or give opportunity to.” For example:
  • “I can’t believe your dad let you come to the party!”
  • “My bosses are letting me work from home for half of the week.”
  • “I hope the teacher lets us sit together on the bus.”

have

Rather than meaning “to possess,” have as a causative verb means “to compel, persuade, instruct, or otherwise cause someone to do something,” as in:
  • “I’ll just have my assistant get us some coffee.”
  • “He’s having the kids clean the dishes tonight.”
  • “Mary had her mother make her wedding dress.”
In addition to base-form verbs, have can also be followed by past and present participles. When used with a present participle (the “-ing” form of the verb), the overall meaning remains the same, but it refers to a continuous action occurring over a period of time (which can either be vague or specific). Uniquely, have is almost always in the simple past tense in this construction. For example:
  • “The boss had us working late again this week.”
  • “The instructor had the class dancing for over an hour!”
Have can also be followed by a past participle, but its meaning changes very slightly. Instead of indicating that someone is compelled or instructed to do something, have + past participle is used to indicate when you have something done to someone or something. For example:
  • “We’re having the house painted this week.”
  • “My mother had the car cleaned after our soccer practice.”
  • “My boss had me transferred to a different department.”

Causative Verbs Followed by Infinitives

While the three verbs that are followed by base-form verbs are exceptionally common in everyday speech and writing, the majority of causative verbs are followed by infinitives in causative structures. Some of the most common of these are allow, permit, enable, cause, lead, force, require, motivate, convince,, and get. (Note that this is not an exhaustive list.)
You’ll probably notice that some of these are synonyms of make, let, and have, but many others have unique meanings unto themselves. There are too many to give individual explanations, so instead let’s look at how each would work in an example sentence:
  • “Please allow me to explain my statement.”
  • “We were permitted to bring guests to the premiere.”
  • “The inheritance enabled me to travel across Europe for the summer.”
  • “The shaking caused me to spill my drink.”
  • “Her reaction forced us to rethink our policy.”
  • “All of this is leading me to believe that our theory is incorrect.”
  • “The government is requiring all citizens to carry identification at all times.”
  • “Their intense rivalry motivated her to train even harder.”
  • “We’re trying to convince them to invest in the company.”
  • “They finally got him to admit that he was wrong.”*

*get vs. have

Get and have are almost completely synonymous in causative constructions, but there is a subtle difference in their meaning. While both mean “to instruct or compel,” get often implies convincing or persuading the person, especially in the face of uncertainty. Consider the following sets of examples:
  • “My mother had me sing in front of the guests.” (My mother instructed me to sing, possibly without a choice on my part.)
  • “My mother got me to sing in front of the guests.” (My mother convinced me to sing, possibly without me initially wanting to.)
  • “John had us walk the whole way.” (John instructed or forced us to walk.)
  • “John got us to walk the whole way.” (John convinced or persuaded us to walk.)
This implication might not be very noticeable, but the subtlety can add more precision to your writing.

Using participles after get

Get is unique among the causative verbs followed by infinitives because, just like have, it can also be followed by past and present participles in certain situations. As before, the use of a present participle doesn’t change the meaning of get, but rather indicates an action performed continuously over a period of time. For instance:
  • “The presentation got me thinking about my own life choices.”
  • “If a video game can get people exercising, then it’s a good thing in my book!”
Also like have, the meaning of get changes slightly when followed by a past participle, indicating action done to someone or something, rather than compelling that person to perform an action. For example:
  • “I need to get the car washed before the wedding.”
  • “You’ll get us both fired if you don’t stop screwing around!”

The “semi-causative” verb help

Help is also something of an outlier here because it isn’t really indicating causation as we’ve described it so far; instead, it indicates when someone is aided in completing a task, so it might be more accurate to call it “complementary,” rather than causative. Nevertheless, it is often included in lists of causative verbs, so it’s worth examining.
What also sets help apart as a causative verb is that it can be followed by either an infinitive or a verb in its base form. While the infinitive construction is sometimes considered more formally correct, the base-verb construction is much more common in everyday speech and writing. For example:
  • “I would like to help you win this election.” (most common)
  • “I would like to help you to win this election.” (acceptable, but much less common)
  • “My brother has been helping me write my college applications.” (most common)
  • “My brother has been helping me to write my college applications.” (acceptable, but less common)

Keep and the Present Participle

There is only one causative verb that must be used with a present participle: keep. Instead of its usual meaning (“to retain possession of”), keep as a causative verb means “to maintain or prolong,” as in:
  • “I can’t believe you kept me waiting for over an hour!”
  • “I’ll only be a minute, so keep the engine running.”
Quiz

1. Which of the following verbs is not considered one of the “true” causative verbs?





2. When can the causative verb have be followed by a past participle?





3. The causative verb require must be followed by which kind of non-causative verb construction?







4. The causative verb keep must be followed by which kind of non-causative verb construction?







5. The causative verb help must be followed by which kind of non-causative verb construction?







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