All About the French Causative ('le Causatif')

The action is caused, not performed: 'She made me do it!'

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Lawless, Laura K. "All About the French Causative ('le Causatif')." ThoughtCo, Jun. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, June 18). All About the French Causative ('le Causatif'). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818 Lawless, Laura K. "All About the French Causative ('le Causatif')." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818 (accessed October 23, 2017).
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The French causative construction describes an action that is being caused—rather than performed. The subject of the sentence (he/she/it) causes something to happen, has something done or makes someone do something.

A causative sentence must have a subject (a person or thing), a conjugated form of the verb faire and the infinitive of another verb, as well as at least one of these two things: a "receiver" (a person or thing being acted upon) and an "agent" (a person or thing being made to act).

1. Receiver Only

The subject of the sentence causes something to happen to the receiver:
subject + faire + infinitive + receiver

  •    Je fais laver la voiture. >  I'm having the car washed.
  •    Il fait réparer la machine. > He's having the machine repaired.
  •    Vas-tu faire désherber le jardin ? > Are you going to have the garden weeded?
  •    J'ai fait faire un gâteau. > I had a cake made.

2. Agent Only

The subject causes the agent to do something:
subject + faire + infinitive + agent
(Note that there is no preposition. The the agent is preceded by a preposition only when there is also a receiver.)

  •    Je fais écrire David. > I'm making David write.
  •    Il fait manger sa sœur. > He makes his sister eat.
  •    Les orages font pleurer mes enfants. > Storms make my children cry.
  •    J'ai fait cuisiner André. > I had/made André cook.

3. Receiver + Agent

The subject has the agent do something to the receiver:
subject + faire + infinitive + receiver + par or à + agent
(There is a preposition before the agent only in cases like this: when there is both an agent and a receiver.

This is particularly important when they are both people, because it lets you know which is which.)

  •    Je fais laver la voiture par/à David. > I'm having David wash the car.
  •    Il fait réparer la machine par/à sa sœur. > He's having his sister fix the machine.
  •    Je vais faire faire un gâteau par/à André. > I'm going to have André make a cake.
       (The construction faire faire is correct, and common: Je vais faire un gâteau would mean, "I'm going to make a cake".)
  •    Vas-tu faire examiner les enfants par le/au médecin ? > Are you going to have the doctor examine the kids?

4. No Receiver or Agent

This is not at all common. A rare example of the causative without agent or receiver, though the latter is obvious from whatever the other person is holding, is fais voir.

Se Faire: the Reflexive Causative

1. The causative can be used reflexively (with a reflexive pronoun) to indicate that the subject has something done to himself or asks someone to do something to/for him.

  • Je me fais coiffer deux fois par mois. > I get my hair done (literally, "I get myself coiffed") twice a month.
  • Il se fait apporter le café chaque matin. > He has [someone] bring him coffee, He has coffee brought to him every morning.
  • Vas-tu te faire expliquer le problème ? > Are you going to have someone explain the problem to you?
  • J'aimerais me faire faire un soin du visage. > I'd like to get/have a facial. 
    (Faire faire is correct; J'aimerais me faire un soin du visage would mean, "I'd like to give myself a facial.")

2. The reflexive causative can indicate something that happens to the subject (per someone else's implied action or wish).

  •    S'est-elle fait expulser ? > Did she get kicked out?
  •    Il s'est fait avoir. > He was conned, He's been had.
  •    Fais gaffe, tu vas te faire renvoyer. > Be careful, you're going to get (yourself) fired.
  •    Nous nous sommes fait faire un détour par Paris. > We were rerouted through Paris (We were made to detour through Paris).

3. And it can describe something unintentional, a completely passive event:

  •    J'espère ne pas me faire échauder. > I hope I don't burn my fingers. / I hope my fingers don't get burned.
    (Note: se faire échauder can also mean "to be swindled")
  •    Attention, tu pourras te faire mouiller (s'il pleut). > Careful, you might get wet (if it rains).
  •    Le chien s'est fait renverser. > The dog got run over.
  •    Elle s'est fait tuer (par une infection virale). > She was killed (by a viral infection).

Certain aspects of grammar are a little tricky with the causative. First of all, you always have two verbs: faire (in various conjugations) plus an infinitive. The infinitive is sometimes faire as well, as shown in some of the examples like "to have something made" or "to have something done."

Objects and Object Pronouns

The causative construction always has a direct object, which may be either the receiver or the agent.

When replacing the direct object with an object pronoun, that pronoun is placed in front of faire.

  •  Je fais écrire une lettre. > Je la fais écrire. (Lettre [la] is the receiver.)
  •  I'm having a letter written. > I'm having it written.
  •  Je fais écrire David. > Je le fais écrire. (David [le] is the agent.)
  •  I'm having David write. > I'm having him write.

In a sentence with both a receiver and an agent, only one can be the direct object: the receiver. This makes the agent the indirect object.

A preposition is needed and it goes in front of the agent. In other words, with the addition of a receiver, the agent turns into the indirect object. For the proper word order, see double object pronouns.

  •    Je fais écrire une lettre par David. > Je la lui fais écrire.
       (Lettre [la] is the receiver; David [lui] is the agent.)
  •    I'm having David write a letter. > I'm having him write it.
  •    Il fait manger les pommes par sa fille. > Il les lui fait manger.
       (Pommes [les] is the receiver; fille [lui] is the agent.)
  •    He's making his daughter eat the apples. > He's making her eat them.
  •    Nous faisons visiter la ferme à nos enfants. > Nous la leur faisons visiter.
       (La ferme [la] is the receiver; enfants [leur] is the agent.)
  •    We have our children visit the farm. > We have them visit it.

With the reflexive causative, the reflexive pronoun always indicates the agent and is always the indirect object:

  •    Je me fais laver les cheveux. > Je me les fais laver.
  •    I'm having my hair washed. > I'm having it washed.
  •    Peux-tu te faire faire la robe ? > Peux-tu te la faire faire ?
  •    Can you have the dress made? > Can you have it made?

Agreement

Normally when a compound tense is preceded by a direct object, there needs to be direct object agreement. However, this is not the case with the causative, which requires no direct object agreement.

  •    Il a fait travailler les enfants. > Il les a fait (not faitstravailler.
  •    He made the children work. > He made them work.
  •    J'ai fait étudier Christine. > Je l'ai fait (not faite) étudier.
  •    I made Christine study. > I made her study.

Faire is just one of a number of French verbs that can be followed by an infinitive. These are semi-auxiliary verbs.

Format
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Your Citation
Lawless, Laura K. "All About the French Causative ('le Causatif')." ThoughtCo, Jun. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, June 18). All About the French Causative ('le Causatif'). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818 Lawless, Laura K. "All About the French Causative ('le Causatif')." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-causative-le-causatif-1368818 (accessed October 23, 2017).