Learn About Causative Verbs

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

causative verb
"Causative verbs are used to describe an action that is necessary to cause another action; for example, 'The devil made me do it.' In this example, made causes the do to happen" (Administrative Assistant's and Secretary's Handbook, 2014). (Skye Zambrana Photography/Getty Images)

In English grammar, a causative verb is a verb used to indicate that some person or thing makes — or helps to make — something happen. Examples of causative verbs include make, cause, allow, help, have, enable, keep, hold, let, force, and require, which can also be referred to as causal verbs or simply causatives.

A causative verb, which can be in any tense, is generally followed by an object and another verb form—often an infinitive or a participle — and are used to describe something that happens because of a person, place, or thing whose actions bring about change in another entity.

Interestingly enough, the word "cause" isn't the prototypical causative verb in English because "cause" has a much more specific and less frequently used definition than "make," which is used most frequently to indicate someone making something happen.

Allows Versus Lets

English grammar is full of small rules that help speakers understand the vast subtleties of correct usage and style. Such is the case with the rules pertaining to the causative verbs allows and lets, wherein both convey the same meaning — a person permits another to do something — but require different noun-verb form pairings to follow them.

The word allows is almost always followed by an object, which in turn is followed by the infiintive form of the verb allows is modifying. Such is the case in the sentence "Corey allows his friends to chat with him," wherein allows is the causative verb, "his friends" the object of the phrase, and "to chat" the infinitive form of what Corey is allowing his friends to do.

On the other hand, the causative verbs "lets" is almost always followed by an object then the base form of the verb that's being modified. Such is the case in the sentence "Corey lets his friends chat with him," wherein lets is the causative verb, "his friends" the object of the phrase, and "chat" the base form of the verb Corey lets his friends do.

The Most Popular Causative Verb

One would think that "cause" would be the most frequently used and typical example of causative verbs, but that's simply not the case. Francis Katamba explains in "Morphology" that the word "cause" is a "causative verb but it has a more specialized meaning (implying direct causation) than 'make' and it is much less common." 

Instead, "make" is the most common causative verb, which also differs from other causative verbs in that it omits the word "to" from complementary verb clauses that follow while in the active form (make), but do require the word "to" while in the passive form of "made." For example, "Jill makes me run daily" and "I was made to run daily by Jill."

In both senses, the causative verb "make" still implies that someone causes the subject to run, but English grammar dictates that the accompanying verb phrase for "make" differs for that of "made." Rules like these abound in usage and style, and it's important for English as an Alternative Language (EAL) students to commit these types of guidelines to memory — as they don't often appear in other forms.