There are five main verbs we use in causative sentences in English: have, get, make, let and help. We use these verbs to say that someone or something causes something to happen. We can use them in the past, present and future tenses.
We use have as a causative verb when someone performs a service for us.
- Tara had her car repaired.
- I had my hair cut.
In both of these sentences, the subjects didn’t do the action themselves, they paid someone to do it for them.
The structure is subject + have + object + past participle. With this construction, we usually don’t say who performed the service because it’s obvious, e.g., I had my hair cut by a hairdresser, or because it’s not important.
We can replace have with get in informal sentences.
- Tara got her car repaired.
- I got my hair cut.
We can also use have as a causative verb with a different construction to say who did the action for us. It might be a service we pay for or it might be something we ask someone to do.
- The teacher has his students write an essay every Friday.
- Mary had her assistant call the catering company.
We know that Mary, or Mary’s company, pays her assistant, but we also know that, unfortunately, teachers don’t pay their students to write essays.
The structure in this case is subject + have + person + infinitive.
When you get someone to do something, you persuade them to do something.
- I got my son to cook dinner because I was tired.
- Helen got the mechanic to check the whole engine.
The structure of a causative sentence with get is subject + get + person + to infinitive.
The causative verb make is used to say that we force someone or something to do something and it’s often something they don’t want to do. It is much stronger than get.
- She made me watch a horror film.
- I make my children do their homework before dinner.
In the first sentence, we understand that the person didn’t want to watch the horror film and in the second, that the children don’t want to do their homework before dinner – or maybe at all!
We use the causative make with the structure subject + make + object + infinitive.
When we use let as a causative verb, we mean that we give someone permission to do something or we allow something to happen.
- My parents let their grandchildren stay up as late as they want.
- I let the grass grow very long and now it’s hard to cut it.
The first sentence involves an active decision to give the children permission to stay up. The second sentence means we allowed something to happen, but we didn’t make an active decision about it.
The structure is subject + let + object + infinitive.
Help means to assist someone.
- My mum will help me decorate my flat.
- I helped my friend move house.
- Music helps me to fall asleep.
The structure when we use help as a causative verb is subject + help + object + (to) infinitive. We can create sentences with or without to and the meaning doesn’t change. It’s more common to create sentences without to.
Can you say that this blog post has helped you understand causatives? What kinds of things do you have done instead of doing them yourself? And what did your parents make you do when you were younger that you really didn’t like?