Causative Structure

The Causative Structure is all about making things happen, even if the subject of a sentence isn't the one to actually carry out the action. The subject might get someone or something else to do the action. Causatives have a bit in common with Passive Voice (though they have more in common with Active Voice), but they can also be seen as a subdivision of Verb Patterns. One of the things that makes Causatives unique is that they can use all verbal forms, including the Perfect Participle.

We use Causative forms to express that the subject of a sentence initiates an action or process, and that they are ultimately responsible for the end result, but there may be a step in the middle which the subject may or may not have done themselves.  Sometimes that middle step is even omitted from the sentence.

Here are a few examples:

  1. “You should probably get that rash checked out.”
  2. “I’ll make Evelyn apologize you as soon as she comes back.”
  3. “The music helps him to focus.
  4. “We’ll have this machine running in no time!”

 

The first underlined verb in each sentence is the main verb of the sentence, and it’s what the subject does.  Some of these are ‘weak verbs’, meaning they carry little to no meaning themselves, but rather meaning is derived from what follows.  ‘Get’ and ‘have’ are both weak verbs.

The second underlined verb in each sentence is the ‘key action’ – it’s what’s actually being done –  and it typically carries more weight in Causative sentences than the main verb.  The key action takes the form of a verbal. 

While most verbals in Verb Patterns are either Full Infinitives or Progressive Participles, Causative Verb Patterns can also include Bare Infinitives (as seen in example 2) and Perfect Participles (as seen in example 1), making them rather unique.

The noun that actually performs the verb is called the ‘agent’.  The ‘subject’ of the sentence is the noun that is grammatically paired with the verb (almost always before the verb).  Most of the time, the subject and the agent are one and the same.  Such cases are referred to as ‘Active Voice’.

However, there are times when the target (not the agent) is the subject.  The ‘target’ is a noun affected by the verb.  When the target takes the grammatical role of the subject, such cases are called ‘Passive Voice’.

Causatives are a little tricky to categorize because while the subject is the agent of the sentence’s main verb, the subject is often not the agent of the more meaningful key action.  So while grammatically these sentences are closer to Active Voice, the meaning of Causative sentences lies somewhere between Active Voice and Passive Voice.

Some grammar references resolve this issue by establishing a different voice that’s neither active nor passive: Causative Voice.

Let’s take a look at each of the four verbals to see how they apply to the Causative structure, and to see which main verbs fit with each.

Perfect Participle Causatives

The only time that Perfect Participles (aka Passive Participles aka Past Participles) are used in Verb Patterns might just be for the Causative structure.  Remember that Perfect Participles have the -ed/en ending.  These Causatives are most recognized for their use of get and have, though there are few other verbs that work as well.

Here are all the Causative verbs that could be followed by Perfect Participle key actions:

force – get – have – need – see – want – would like

Causatives with their key actions as Perfect Participles focus on the end results.  Often the intermediary party – the agent of the key action – is absent from such sentences.  The direct object in Perfect Participle Causatives is the noun that receives the key action.

Here are some example sentences:

  • “I couldn’t force the door closed.”
  • “She accidentally got her coworker fired.”
  • “Didn’t he just have his car washed?”
  • “We need this safe cracked before the cops come!”
  • “He’ll see me embarrassed before the night’s through.”
  • “They want the apartment cleaned by the time they get back.”
  • “I would like my fingers manicured, please.”

Each of the key actions – the second underlined verb in each sentence – is in the Perfect Participle form.  Consistent with other applications of this form, there’s a focus on the end state; they tell us what is true of the situation after the action is carried out.

Notice that it’s not expressed who carries out the key verbs or how they are done (though sometimes the intermediary agent is implied or obvious).  What matters here is that the object (the noun between the main verb and the key action) reaches its end state.

Bare Infinitive Causatives

Bare Infinitives are the base verb form (and they do not start with ‘to’, unlike Full Infinitives).  Bare Infinitives are most commonly used after modal verbs.  But they can also be the form of the second verb for Causatives.

Here are the Causative verbs that could be followed by Bare Infinitive key actions:

bid – have – help – let – make – see

Causatives with their key actions as Bare Infinitives focus on the action itself (the key action, that is), rather than the end results.  The object that comes between the main verb and the key action is most often the intermediary party – the agent who actually performs the key action.

Here are some example sentences:

  • “He bid them run while they still could.”
  • “I’ll have you know that I’ve done this before.”
  • “Could you help me lift this box?”
  • “They won’t let you appeal the verdict.”
  • “She made her son finish his vegetables.”
  • “I’ll see you hang for this!”

 

Notice that this time, the intermediary agent is expressed in the sentence.  While the agent of the key action (who is also the object of the main verb) is mostly the person that gets it done, the sentence’s subject also takes part by causing, permitting, ensuring, commanding, or aiding; in any case, the subject is at least partially responsible for the key action.

There doesn’t seem to be much difference between Bare Infinitives and Full Infinitives when it comes to Causatives.  The Bare Infinitives appear to just be special cases, as far as the form is concerned.

Full Infinitive Causatives

Full Infinitives are the verb form that begins with the word ‘to’.  They can be used a number of ways.  For instance, they are very common in Verb Patterns.  They are often used to express purpose or intent, and tend to be future-facing.

Here are some Causative verbs that could be followed by Full Infinitive key actions:

bid – dare – force – get – help – need – want – would like

Causatives with their key actions as Full Infinitives focus on the key action itself.  Like other uses of the Full Infinitive, it takes place after (and as a result of) the main verb that precedes it.  Again, the object that comes between the main verb and the key action is most often the intermediary party – the agent who actually performs the key action.

Here are some example sentences:

  • “She bade me to drop the subject.”
  • “I dare you to visit the haunted house.”
  • “You can’t force me to laugh at your dumb jokes.”
  • “Could you get your dog to stop trampling my flowers?”
  • Help me to understand what the problem is.”
  • “I need you to run to the store for me.”
  • “They wanted me to break my promise.”
  • “I would like you to leave now.

 

Once again, the expressed intermediary agent performs the key action, but the sentence’s subject guides or aids the agent to do so.

Here, the line between Causatives and other Verb Patterns gets fuzzy.  One group of ‘certain verbs’ that comes before Full Infinitives is verbs of Influence, which include ‘allow’, ‘command’, ‘compel’, ‘guide’, ‘incite’, ‘lead’, ‘move’, ‘prompt’, ‘spur’, and others.  We included the 8 verbs listed above as Causatives because those verbs also appear in the Bare Infinitives list or the Perfect Participles list, which sets them apart from most other verbs.

However, to see more verbs used in a similar way – that is, verbs that get a different agent to carry out the verbal – check out the Influence group on the Verb Patterns page.

Progressive Participle Causatives

The Progressive Participle is the -ing form.  It’s what’s used in Progressive tenses, and it’s also the same as the ‘Participles’ used in Verb Patterns.  Here also is an overlap with more standard Verb Patterns, but the words we include in the following list once again also appear in either the Perfect Participles list or the Bare Infinitives list.

Here are Causative verbs that could be followed by Progressive Participle key actions:

get – have

Causatives with their key actions as Progressive Participle Infinitives focus on the key action itself.  What sets them apart from Bare or Full Infinitives is that Progressive Participle actions are considered to have a duration, and often they are ongoing.  Once again, the intermediary agent is expressed as an object that comes between the main verb and the key action.

Here are some example sentences:

  • “We try to get the kids going before the bus arrives.”
  • “Coach had him running drills until he got tired.

 

The expressed intermediary agent (the object, here) performs the key action, but it’s the sentence’s subject that initiates the action in the first place.

A final note for get, whether it’s used with the Perfect Participle or the Progressive Participle: if there is no expressed object between get and the key action, then it could be substituted with a reflexive pronoun that points back to the subject.

  • “They got married last weekend!” = “They got themselves married last weekend!”  The subject is both the initiator of the event and the recipient of the key action (like the object would be).  
  • “Let’s get going!” = “Let’s get ourselves  going!”  The subject is both the initiator of the event and the agent of the key action (like the object would be).  

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Passive Voice

Both Causative Voice and Passive Voice are ways to express that the subject may not be the agent who carries out the verb.
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Participle Adjectives

The participle versions of the Causatives on this page aren't that different from adjectives, especially if they end up describing the object.
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