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: have, let, 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 get, force, allow, and cause take an infinitive verb, not a base verb.

2016-09-15_causative-verbs-resource

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. For more information, see our blog post on the Passive Causative.

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

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36 comments

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  1. hanumanth678@gmail.com'

    Hanumanth says:

    Dec 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Can you provide all causative verb examples of all tenses for negative and question sentences

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Dec 14, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Hi Hanumanth, forming questions with causative verbs in each tense is the same as other verbs. For example, “DOES the manager make the employees stay late every day?” (simple present) or “DID the manager make the employees stay late yesterday?” (simple past). For a list of how to form each verb tense, go to this index: http://blog.esllibrary.com/2017/02/28/grammar-day-roundup-2017/

      You can also scroll down to my reply to Kash’s comment from June 6, 2017 for a list of causative verbs in the 12 tenses.

      We also have a resource showing how to form questions: https://esllibrary.com/resources/2462

      Negative sentences with causative verbs are also formed the same way as other verbs. For example:

      – The manager didn’t let the employees go home early yesterday.
      – The manager hasn’t let the employees go home early all year.

      Reply

  2. suneelbaghel111@gmail.com'

    Suneel Baghel says:

    Nov 21, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Like humans zoo animals must have a dentist…. Their teeth
    1-fill. 2-filled 3-filling. 4-to be filled
    Ans filling is given but how
    My ans is fill.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 23, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Suneel, “fill” is the best answer here. Maybe there is a mistake in your answer key.

      Reply

  3. kumarvisuvishal@gmail.com'

    vishal says:

    Jul 09, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Hi can you explain when and why gerund infinitive and participles used and also difference between them

    Reply

  4. mahmudk69@gmail.com'

    mahmud says:

    May 20, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Madam,
    Thanks a lot for your wonderful explanations on various points of English grammar.
    Here you are saying that the causative verbs are only three: have, let and make. But there are several websites that give five causative verbs like have, let, make, get and help. Here is a link to one of such sites: https://www.espressoenglish.net/causative-verbs-in-english-let-make-have-get-help/

    I would like to have your opinion. Thanks.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 23, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      Hi Mahmud,

      You’ll see in point II above that there are plenty of other English verbs with the meaning of causing someone to do something. Some textbooks lump them together, but this can be confusing for students. Be aware that only have, let, and make are the true causative verbs because they are the only ones that take a base verb. The others take an infinitive verb (the usual case—any second “object” verb in English will be a gerund or an infinitive). These verbs include get, force, allow, and cause.

      “Help” is a tricky verb, so I didn’t include it in this post. Help doesn’t mean that you caused someone to do something, but it does mean you aided someone who was doing something. The tricky thing about “help” is that is takes an infinitive verb, but the “to” is usually dropped (this happens in a few cases with verbs that are very common).

      E.g., “I helped my friend (to) write her report.”

      Just be aware that “help” isn’t a true causative verb. It doesn’t really have a “cause” meaning, but more importantly, it isn’t a base verb. Instead, it is an infinitive verb where the “to” is usually dropped. Have, let, and make can’t ever take an infinitive in the causative sense.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply

  5. madbrebes@gmail.com'

    achmad says:

    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:23 am

    “Common verbs are, from strongest to weakest: force, cause, get, and allow.”
    the force was the most non-Causative verb. was that what you mean at the sentece above?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Achmad,

      You got it! Force, cause, get, and allow aren’t true causative verbs. Force has the strongest meaning—it is often used when you’re making someone do something against their will (that they don’t want to do). Allow has the weakest meaning because in that case, someone usually wants to do something.

      Reply

      • madbrebes@gmail.com'

        achmad says:

        Apr 19, 2017 at 5:51 am

        thank ya

        Reply

      • madbrebes@gmail.com'

        achmad says:

        Apr 22, 2017 at 11:24 am

        have u written an article when to use “up” for pharasal verb ?

        Reply

      • alienbeback@gmail.com'

        Kash says:

        Jun 04, 2017 at 2:04 am

        Mam,

        Could you please define the tenses of causative verb; I mean, how many tenses are possible? Can you please explain them as below for all the four “HAVE, GET, MAKE and LET”?

        Present indefinite
        Present continuous
        Present perfect
        Present perfect continuous

        Past indefinite
        Past continuous
        Past perfect
        Past perfect continuous

        Future indefinite
        Future continuous
        Future perfect
        Future perfect continuous

        Thanks

        Reply

        • Tanya Trusler says:

          Jun 06, 2017 at 12:38 pm

          Hi Kash,

          Almost any tense is possible as long as it makes sense. First of all, don’t forget that “get” is not a true causative verb (the second verb will be an infinitive instead of a base verb—compare “I had my students study” with “I got my students to study”). Here are some examples of natural-sounding causative verbs in various tenses:

          Simple present: She makes her students study every day.
          Present continuous: She is making her students study now.
          Present perfect: She has made her students study many times.
          Present perfect continuous: She has been making her students study for months.

          Simple past: She made her students study yesterday.
          Past continuous: She was making her students take a test when the fire drill started.
          Past perfect: She had made her students take a test before she allowed them to go home.
          Past perfect continuous: She had been making her students take a test when the fire drill started.

          Simple future: She will make her students take a test tomorrow.
          Future continuous: She will be making her students take a test when the fire drills starts.
          Future perfect: She will have made her students take a test before she allows them to go home.
          Future perfect continuous: not natural

          Hope that helps!

          Reply

          • alienbeback@gmail.com'

            kash says:

            Jun 19, 2017 at 1:20 am

            thanks a lot! It helped me a lot. I just want to be more clear by discussing some other verb tenses possibilities, as I have a grave confusion when exercising over verbs with their tenses.
            Let’s take “HAVE FOR POSSESSION” in all above 12 Tenses with their passive form …????

          • Tanya Trusler says:

            Jun 19, 2017 at 1:38 pm

            Hi Kash, the conjugation of the 12 tenses for the possessive meaning of “have” is the same as the causative meaning of “have.” The verb tenses don’t change, only the meaning changes. So the conjugation of “make,” above, will be the same for the possessive “have” (e.g., I have, I had, I will have, etc.). The passive form is really not common when “have” means possession. For example, “I have a dog” is correct in the active voice, but “A dog is had by me” is incorrect in the passive.

  6. holysarah2001@yahoo.com'

    Sarah says:

    Feb 16, 2017 at 7:23 am

    Hi!
    Thanks a lot for such great information !!!
    Im an English learner from Iran and this web was really useful !
    thanks again !

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 17, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      That’s great to hear, Sarah! Best of luck with your English studies.

      Reply

  7. nikitagupta512@gmail.com'

    Nikita says:

    Aug 19, 2016 at 6:03 am

    Hi, thank you for such an informative piece. Could you tell me that which part of speech will the base verb (infinitive without ‘to’) be? Will it be a noun, adjective, or adverb?
    ‘He made the fear go away.’
    Thank you

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Aug 19, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Nikita,

      Good question. This is something that I’ve never thought of before! I would say that the base verb still functions as a verb in that position. It’s not the main verb, but it doesn’t take on another function the way a gerund or infinitive would (noun function). If we look at another example, it becomes clearer:

      – He made her do her homework. (“Do” isn’t an object of “made.” It is the verb/action of “her” in a sense: “She did her homework.”)

      Another case like this is with an adjective or adverb phrase. Within the phrase, the participle still functions as a verb.

      – After she called [verb of adverb clause] me, she went [main verb] to sleep.
      – After calling [verb of adverb phrase, reduced to a participle] me, she went [main verb] to sleep.

      In those examples above, though, the infinitive “to sleep” functions as a noun (it’s the object of the verb “went”).

      Hope that helps!

      Reply

  8. Info@silviogiordano.it'

    Silvio says:

    Apr 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Tanya, thank you very much for your precious answer. You got it. I had him buy something at the grocery, but I asked him not to buy sugar, because we were plenty of it. So I didn’t have him do something, but I had him not do something. How does it sound? Thanks again. Have a good day.

    Reply

  9. Info@silviogiordano.it'

    Silvio says:

    Apr 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Hello Tanya, is it correct to say: “I had him not buy sugar.” Thank you in advance.

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Apr 24, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Silvio,

      It sounds strange to use “not” before “buy”. Usually we would use it before the causative verb: “I didn’t have him buy sugar.” (In this case, you were going to have him buy sugar, but changed your mind.) I think that “not” will always sound better before the causative verb (and will always be correct). It usually won’t be correct before the second verb, though I suppose there may be exceptions when you really want to emphasize not doing the second verb.

      Reply

  10. Imatobea@yahoo.com.hk'

    Charlie says:

    Mar 13, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Miss Tanya,I sent to your email once again ,thank you!

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Mar 14, 2014 at 12:39 am

      I emailed you back! Good luck.

      Reply

  11. Imatobea@yahoo.com.hk'

    Charlie says:

    Mar 13, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Hello Miss Tanya!!im very appreciate that you sent time on my question !you are better than any teachers in my schools that solved my problem in detail !i also have some questions this time and I have already sent to your email ,can we contact from email?thank you!

    Reply

    • tanya@tbtk.net'

      Tanya says:

      Mar 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      You’re welcome, Charlie! I’m glad I could help. Thank you for your kind words!

      Reply

  12. Imatobea@yahoo.com.hk'

    Charlie says:

    Feb 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Hello,I would like to ask there is one causative mistake here in this question.how to change it to be right

    Has Betty come and see me in the office,please.

    Big thx!!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Feb 22, 2014 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Charlie,

      The correct sentence is:

      Have Betty come and see me in the office, please.

      This is a causative sentence (with “have” as the causative verb). “Have” is in the imperative form, which is used when giving an order/command/instruction. The subject of the imperative form (which gets dropped/omitted) is always “you”, which is why the verb is “have”, not “has”. The meaning is this: I’m instructing you to make Betty come to my office. I.e., I’m giving you an order (imperative form of “have”) for you to cause Betty come and see me (causative verb “have” + base verbs “come” and “see”).

      Hope that helps! :)

      Reply

  13. gonz997@hotmail.co.uk'

    Scott says:

    Jan 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Hi I am a bit confused looking at different websites on causative verbs.

    Can you explain to me why we would say:
    I had my house painted. Why is the verb in past rather than the base form?

    Thanks

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jan 30, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Great question, Scott.

      “I had my house painted” is an example of the Passive Causative. It’s a combination of a Causative sentence (the verb Have, and the meaning of making someone do something) and the Passive (by someone). You are saying “I had my house painted by someone.”

      The pattern for the Passive Causative is: have or get + object (thing) + past participle (+ by someone, which is usually dropped).

      So “painted” in this case isn’t the past—it’s the past participle. Other examples are “I got my hair cut” or “I had the letter written by my secretary.”

      I plan to do a full blog post on this soon, but I hope this helped for now! :)

      Reply

  14. thomas_narvas@yahoo.com'

    Regina Thomas says:

    Nov 17, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Hi! Thanks for posting about causative verbs. This explains clearly how to use them. I’m teaching grammar and I’ve been searching google about causative verbs. I’ve bookmarked this site.

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Nov 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Regina! Happy to hear that you found this post useful.

      Reply

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