English Grammar - Causative Verbs

Causative Verbs Explained

Causative verbs express an action which is caused to happen. In other words, when I have something done for me I cause it to happen. In other words, I do not actually do anything, but ask someone else to do it for me. This is the sense of causative verbs. Intermediate to advanced level English learners should study the causative verb as an alternative to the passive voice.

Causative Verb Examples

Jack had his house painted brown and grey.
The mother made her son do extra chores because of his behavior. 
She had Tom write up a report for the end of the week.

The first sentence is similar in meaning to: Someone painted Jack's house. OR Jack's house was painted by someone. The second sentence indicates that the mother caused the boy to take an action. In the third, someone told someone to do something.

Causative Verbs Explained

Causative verbs express the idea of someone causing something to take place. Causative verbs can be similar in meaning to passive verbs. Here are some examples for your comparison.

My hair was cut. (passive)
I had my hair cut. (causative)

In this example, the meaning is the same. Because it's difficult to cut your own hair, it's understood that someone else cut your hair.

The car was washed. (passive)
I got the car washed. (causative)

These two sentences have a slight difference in meaning. In the first, it's possible that the speaker washed the car. In the second, it's clear that the speaker paid someone to wash the car. 

Generally speaking, the passive voice is used to place emphases on the action taken.

Causatives place the stress on the fact that someone causes something to happen.

There are three causative verbs in English: Make, Have and Get. Here are further explanations of each verb and the forms they can take. 

Make

'Make' as a causative verb expresses the idea that the person requires another person to do something.

Subject + Make + Person + Base Form of Verb

Peter made her do her homework.
The teacher made the students stay after class.
The supervisor made the workers continue working in order to meet the deadline.

Have

'Have' as a causative verb expresses the idea that the person wants something to be done for them. This causative verb is often used when speaking about various services. There are two forms of the causative verb 'have'.

Subject + Have + Person + Base Form of Verb

This form indicates that someone causes another person to take an action. Have someone do something is often used to management and work relationships. 

They had John arrive early.
She had her children cook dinner for her.
I had Peter pick up the evening newspaper.

Subject + Have + Object + Past Participle

This form is used with services that are commonly paid for such as car washing, house painting, dog grooming, etc. 

I had my hair cut last Saturday.
She had the car washed at the weekend.
Mary had the dog groomed at the local pet store. 

Note: This form is similar in meaning to the passive.

Get

'Get' is used as a causative verb in a similar way as 'have' is used with the participle. This expresses the idea that the person wants something to be done for them.

The causative verb is often used in a more idiomatic manner than 'have'.

Subject + Get + Person + Past Participle

They got their house painted last week.
Tom got his car washed yesterday.
Alison got the painting appraised by an art dealer. 

This form is also used to difficult tasks we manage to complete. In this case, there is no causative meaning. 

I got the report finished last night. 
She finally got her taxes done yesterday.
I got the lawn done before dinner. 

Have done = Get Done

Have done  and get done have the same meaning when used to refer to paid services in the past.

I had my car washed. = I got my car washed. 
She had her carpet cleaned. = She got her carpet cleaned.