AskDefine | Define causative

Dictionary Definition

causative adj : producing an effect; "poverty as a causative factor in crime" [ant: noncausative]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Acting as a cause.


  1. An expression of an agent causing or forcing a patient to perform an action (or to be in a certain condition).

Extensive Definition

A causative form, in linguistics, is an expression of an agent causing or forcing a patient to perform an action (or to be in a certain condition).
All languages have ways to express causation, but they differ in the means. In some languages there are morphological devices (such as inflection) that change verbs into their causative forms, or adjectives into verbs of "becoming". Other languages employ periphrasis, with idiomatic expressions or auxiliary verbs. All languages also have lexical causative forms (such as English rise → raise).

Morphological causativity

In Sanskrit, there is a causative form of the verb (n.ijanta), which is used when the subject of a clause forces or makes the object perform an action. The causative suffix -ay is attached to the verbal root (this may cause vowel sandhi to take place).
  • bhū "to be, exist" → bhāv-ay; e. g. bhāvayati "he causes to be"
  • khad "to eat" → khād-ay; e. g. khādayāmi "I cause to eat" = "I feed"
In Persian, causative form of the verb is made by adding ân(i)dan to the present stem:
  • xordan (to eat) → xor (present stem) → xorândan (to cause/make to eat)
  • xandidan (to laugh) → xand (present stem) → xandândan (to cause/make to laugh)
In most Semitic languages there is a causative form of the verb. It is postulated that in Proto-Semitic the causative verbal stem was formed by the š- prefix, and this has become ʔa-, hi- or ī- in different languages.
  • Syriac: kəθav "he wrote" → ʔaxtev "he composed"
  • Arabic: ʕalima "he knew" → ʔaʕlama "he informed"
  • Hebrew: dɑrax "he trod" → hidrix "he guided"
In Japanese there is a similar causative/obligative inflection:
  • taberu "to eat" → tabesaseru "to make to eat, to feed"
  • yomu "to read" → yomaseru "to make to read"
Causative forms are also found in some European languages such as Finnish.
  • syödä "to eat" → syöttää "to feed"
  • täysi "full" → täyttää "to fill"
  • haihtua "to evaporate" → haihduttaa "to vaporize"
In the Māori language of New Zealand, the whaka- prefix can be added to a verb, for example:
  • ako "to learn" becomes whakaako "to teach" (to cause to learn)
In Philippine languages such as Tagalog and Ilokano, the pa- prefix is added to verbal forms and to adjectives to form causatives.
  • dakkel "big (adj)" → padakkelen "to enlarge" (Ilokano)
  • kain "eat" → pakainin "to make eat, to feed" (Tagalog)
In Guarani, an Amerindian language, the mbo- prefix is added to oral verbs, and mo- to nasal verbs:
  • puka "to laugh" → mbopuka "to make (someone) laugh"
  • guata "to walk" → mboguata "to guide"
  • pu'ã "to go up" → mopu'ã "to elevate"
Notice that the causative suffix is often used irregularly and/or because of historical reasons, e.g. Finnish:
  • olla "to be" → olettaa "to assume", not "to make exist"
  • kirja- ancient "patterns (of embroidery or text)", but modern "book" → kirjoittaa "to write" ("transform into patterns of text"), not "to transform into books"
Urdu uses the infix "-(l)â-" and -(l)vâ-" to render verbs causative.
  • Karnâ "to do" → karâna "to have done" → "karvâna" → "to have s.o. make s.o. do."
  • Parhnâ "to read" → Parhâna "to make s.o. read" → "Perhvâna" "to cause s.o. to make s.o. read."
  • Hilna "to move" → Hilâna "to have moved" → Hilvâna "to have s.o. make move."
  • Pina "to drink" → Pilâna "to have s.o. drink" → Pilvâna "to have s.o. make s.o. drink" ex: "Usné mâsi sé bachon-ko pâni pilvaya''" - "She had the maid make the kids drink water."

Periphrastic causativity

There are no regular causative inflections in English, nor in any of the major European languages, which resort to idiomatic uses of certain verbs like English make or have, French faire or laisser, or German lassen. For example:
  • She made me eat the vegetables.
  • I had John build the house.
Note that this type of structure is more complicated than the inflectional causative form exemplified in Sanskrit, since it has two verbs and three arguments: the first is the subject of the first verb; the second is the object of the first verb but also the subject of the second; and the third is the object of the second verb. These arguments can be exchanged using passive voice (in either verb), but the result can be cumbersome or even ungrammatical.
Other complex constructions include the use of subjunctive forms. Spanish uses these often, since it does not allow some simpler constructions that English permits.
  • Él hizo que la siguieran. "He had her followed.", lit. "He had (things done so) that they would follow her."
  • Hicimos que el perro comiera pescado. "We made the dog eat fish.", lit. "We did (things so) the dog would eat fish."
In the Romance languages, a number of verbs alternate between intransitive (semantically middle voice) and causative transitive, using a pseudo-reflexive clitic pronoun:
  • Ella se despierta a las 7. "She wakes up at 7."
  • Ella despierta a los niños. "She wakes up the children."

Lexical causativity

In many cases, a language simply uses a different lexical item to indicate a causative form. For example, the causative of English rise is raise, and the causative of eat is feed. English allows a notable freedom in verb valency, resulting in verbs like break, burn or awake, which may be causative or not (he burns it = he causes it to burn). Causativeness is therefore zero-marked in many English verbs.
In Japanese, there are a large number of verbs that alternate in various semi-regular patterns between intransitive forms and causative transitive forms, for example:
  • agaru "to go up, to rise" → ageru "to raise"
  • magaru "to turn" → mageru "to bend"
  • kowareru "to be broken" → kowasu "to (cause to) break"
  • kaeru "to go back" → kaesu "to send back"

Changes of state

In languages with stative verbs (equivalent to English adjectives), the acquisition of a quality, or changes of state, can be expressed with causatives in the same way as with regular verbs. For example, if there is a stative verb to be large, the causative will simply mean to enlarge, to make grow. The reflexive form of this causative can then be used to mean to enlarge oneself, or even as a middle voice, to grow.

Causative syntax

A causative form or phrase can be thought of as a valency-increasing voice operation, which adds one argument. If the original verb is intransitive, then the causative construction as a whole is transitive: to fall → to make (sbdy./sthg.) fall, to topple (sbdy./sthg.), or indeed, to fell, a fossilised form from when causatives were an inflexional part of English grammar. If the original verb is transitive, the causative is ditransitive: to eat (sthg.) → to make (sbdy.) eat (sthg.), to feed (sthg.) to (sbdy.).
For the purpose of syntax, a derivation that turns an adjective or noun into a "verb of becoming" works the same as a causative construction for intransitive verbs. For example, in English the derivational suffixes -(i)fy can be thought of as a causative:
  • simple → simplify = "to make simple", "to cause (sthg.) to become simple"
  • object → objectify = "to make into an object", "to cause (sthg.) to become an object" (figuratively, that is)

Causative voice

The causative voice is a grammatical voice promoting the oblique argument of a transitive verb to an actor argument. When the causative voice is applied to a verb, its valency increases by one. If, after the application of the grammatical voice, there are two actor arguments, one of them is obligatorily demoted to an oblique argument.
Japanese and Mongolian are examples of languages with the causative voice. The following are examples from Japanese:


  • Shibatani, M. (ed.) (2001) The grammar of causation and interpersonal manipulation. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins
  • Song, J.J. (1996). Causatives and caustion: A universal-typological perspective. London and New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

External links

causative in German: Kausativ
causative in Spanish: Causativo
causative in French: Causatif
causative in Italian: Diatesi causativa
causative in Dutch: Causatief
causative in Japanese: 使役
causative in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kausativ
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