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Are Causatives Making You Crazy?

This week's Everyday Grammar looks at the grammatical forms called causatives. Basically, causatives express how one actor causes another actor to do something. You know the meaning of make as in "I made a cake." But in the sentence, "My boss made me work late," make has a causative meaning. In other words, my boss forced me to work late.

What are causatives?

A causative sentence starts with a subject, followed by a causative verb, then an object noun or pronoun, and then the simple form of the verb. Three of the most common causatives in English are make, have, and get.

In the book Understanding and Using English Grammar, Betty Azar explains it this way:

X makes Y do something - that is, X forces Y to do something
X has Y do something - this means X requests that Y do something
X gets Y to do something - this means X persuades Y to do something

How to use make

Let's start with the causative make. As we mentioned before, make means that X forces Y to do something. The meaning of the causative make is stronger than have and get.

We often hear the causative form of make in love songs. Listen for the causative as Elton John sings.

What do I do to make you love me
What have I got to do to be heard?

Elton knows, however, it is impossible - you cannot make someone love you.

In the movie "As Good as It Gets," actors Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt play a couple falling in love. Listen to this dramatic compliment from Nicholson's character Melvin Udall.

Nicholson: OK, now, I got a real great compliment for you. And it's true. You make me want to be a better man.
Hunt: That's maybe the best compliment of my life.

Melvin's statement is possible – she made, or caused him to want to change.

How to use have

Now let's look at the causative meaning of have. For example "I had her cut my hair." You can also use have to tell about a request, as in "I had him carry the bag for me." In order words, "I requested that he carry my bag."

A common mistake is using the infinitive verb form with make or have. You should not say, "I made my cat to do a trick." The correct sentence is "I made my cat do a trick." It is easy to get confused, because this sentence is very close to a correct sentence, "I taught my cat to do a trick." This is a case where you just have to remember that make and have, when used as causatives, act differently from other verbs.

How to use get

Finally, let's talk about get. The verb get is used in many ways, but as a causative, it means to persuade someone to do something they may not want to do. For example, "I got my son to clean his room." As a causative get works the same way as make and have The difference is, get is followed by an infinitive with to. Notice the infinitive to eat in this sentence, "We got the kids to eat the broccoli."

While reporting about the new climate plan, a journalist wrote, "President Obama wants Americans to save energy and lower greenhouse gases. To do that he must get them to give up their SUVs." In other words, Obama must persuade Americans to stop driving SUVs.

Know your infinitives

You might have noticed that with both make and have, the following verb is in the base form. There is no to. However, after the causative verb get, the following verb is in the infinitive with to. For example, "I got my boss to give me a raise."

We leave you with the British singer, Sam Brown, singing George Harrison's song, "Horse to Water." Here again we hear about the impossible. Anyone who has tried to make a horse drink knows the horse must want to drink.

You can take a horse to the water
but you can't make him drink
Oh no, oh no, oh no

You can have it all laid out in front
of you but it still don't make you think
Oh no, oh no, oh no

That's Everyday Grammar for today. Until next week, don't let causatives make you crazy.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm Jonathan Evans.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson and Adam Brock were the editors.


Words in This Story

causativeadj. making something happen or exist : causing something

base formn. the base form of a verb is the simplest form, without a special ending (or suffix). It's the form that appears in dictionary entries.

infinitive form – n. English the infinitive form of a verb is usually used with to (“I asked him to go”) except with modal verbs like should and could (“He should go”) and certain other verbs like see and hear (“I saw him go”).

persuade - v. to cause (someone) to do something by asking, arguing, or giving reasons

Now it’s your turn. Write a sentence using make, have, or get as a causative and we’ll give you feedback in the comments section.

SubjectCausative VerbObjectVerb Form
Mayamadethe dogsit down
AnuphadMaywalk the dog.
MaygotAnupto buy her ice cream.

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