Causative verbs - Advanced English Grammar for ESL Learners - PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Advanced English Grammar for ESL Learners (2011)

9 Causative verbs

Causative verbs are verbs in which somebody (or something) causes somebody (or something) to perform some action. In this chapter we will look at two different kinds of causative verbs: one older (rise-raise, sit-set, lielay) and a more modern way of expressing causation (verb + object + infinitive).

Older causative verbs

The older set of causative verbs is a group of three pairs of verbs that drive both native and nonnative speakers crazy: rise-raise, sit-set, and lie-lay. To understand how the verbs in each of these pairs is related, we need to go back in time. At an earlier stage of English, there was a special ending that could be attached to an intransitive verb. (Reminder: Intransitive verbs have no objects, e.g., “The sun is shining.” Transitive verbs must have objects, e.g., “I saw Bob last night.”) The ending created a new transitive verb with the meaning of “to cause the action of the intransitive verb.” For example, if the ending were attached to the verb jump, the new verb would mean “to cause someone to jump.” If it were attached to the verb sleep, the new verb would mean “to cause someone to sleep.” (Adding to the confusion, at a later stage of English, this causative ending produced a sound change in the transitive causative verbs so that the original intransitive verbs and the new transitive causative verbs no longer had the same vowels. This same vowel change is also responsible for many irregular nouns in English. For example: man-men, tooth-teeth, mouse-mice.)


The intransitive verb rise means to “go up” or “get up.” For example:

The sun rises in the east.
The curtain has risen and the play is about to begin.
We rose at 4:30 this morning to catch the early flight.

As you would expect, the causative verb raise is a transitive verb that means “to cause someone or something to rise.” (Raise in this meaning is virtually synonymous with lift.) For example:

I am raising the window to let in a little air.
They raised the curtain and the play began.
If you have any questions, please raise your hand.

Over the years, the meaning of raise has broadened considerably. For example:

She raised three children on her own. (raise = bring up)
A lot of cotton is raised in California. (raise = grow)
He raises money for nonprofit organizations. (raise= get)

The intransitive verb rise is irregular while the causative transitive verb raise is regular:



Use the correct form of rise or raise in the blank. The first question is done as an example.

Whenever a judge enters a courtroom, the court clerk says, “All rise.”

1. The plantation owners in Virginia grew rich ____________________ tobacco.

2. Musicians who work late into the night never ____________________ before noon.

3. Our electricity rates have been ____________________ at about 20 percent a year.

4. Do you think you can ____________________ the money?

5. The captain ____________________ the anchor and the boat got under way.

6. I was born in Kansas, but ____________________ in California.

7. Congress has again voted to ____________________ the ceiling on the national debt.

8. A ____________________ tide lifts all boats.

9. Supposedly, women’s skirt length ____________________ and falls according to the ups and downs of the stock market.

10. A lot of eyebrows were ____________________ when the congressman said that.


The intransitive verb sit means “to be seated” or “to be situated or placed.” For example:

Please sit.
The students were sitting everywhere: on desks, on chairs, and on the windowsills.
Their house sits on a hill overlooking the valley.
The gallbladder sits on top of the liver.

Note that when we use sit in the second meaning of “to be situated or placed,” sit must always be followed by an adverb of place. If this adverb is deleted, the sentence becomes ungrammatical. For example:

X Their house sits.
X The gallbladder sits.

The original meaning of the transitive verb set meant “to cause someone or something to sit or be placed somewhere.” For example:

He set all of his toy animals on top of the dresser.
I set the vase of fl owers on the table.
A ladder had been set under the window.

Note that the transitive verb set requires not only an object but also an adverb of place.

In other words, when we set something we have to set it SOMEWHERE. If the adverb of place is deleted, the sentence becomes ungrammatical. For example:

X He set all of his toy animals.
X I set the vase of fl owers.
X A ladder had been set.

Over time, the original meaning of set has broadened to also mean “to arrange” or “to assign or pick.” For example:

I need to set the table before dinner.
They have finally set the date for their wedding.

These other, newer meanings of set do not require an adverb of place to be grammatical.

Adding to the already substantial confusion of sit and s et is the fact that set can be used as a noncausative, intransitive verb with the meaning of “to descend or go down.” For example:

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

This new use of set is sufficiently similar to the meaning and grammar of sit that it badly undercuts the historical distinction between sit and set. As a result, the two words have become confused with each other.

Another, much less confusing use of set as an intransitive verb also developed: the meaning of “to harden or become fixed.” For example:

The cement will set in about an hour.
Their attitudes are completely set and infl exible.

The intransitive verb sit is irregular. The transitive causative verb set is also irregular, but in a special way. Set is one of these odd one-syllable verbs ending in a t or d that uses the same form for the present tense, the past tense, and both participles. This group of verbs is discussed in detail Chapter 7, “Talking about past time.”


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Use the correct form of sit or set in the blank. (Ignore the use of set meaning “to descend.”) The first question is done as an example.

We were all sitting around the kitchen table when the lights went out.

1. Please ____________________ wherever you can find a seat.

2. I ____________________ my keys on the table in the hall so I can always find them.

3. No one wants to ____________________ next to the door because there is a terrible draft.

4. The dates have not been ____________________ in stone.

5. “I’m ____________________ on top of the world.”

6. The fort ____________________ in a narrow valley where it commands the only road.

7. The waiter ____________________ the coffee on the table, spilling about half of it.

8. The judge came into the courtroom, his face ____________________ in an angry frown.

9. Everyone was ____________________ under a big oak tree where there was some shade.

10. Has the agenda been ____________________ ?


This is the most difficult pair of causative verbs to use because of a historical accident: the past tense of the irregular intransitive verb lie happens to be lay, which is also the present-tense form of the regular transitive verb lay. For example:


Understandably, the similarity of these two forms has led to a lot of confusion about which verb is which.

The intransitive verb lie originally meant “to be in a horizontal position.” For example:

I had to lie down for a moment.
The man lay facedown on the grass.
The book lay open on the table.

Over time this meaning has broadened to mean “to be placed.” For example:

From the observation tower the entire city lay before us.
Their property lies to the north of us.

As we would expect, the transitive causative verb lay means “to cause to lie”—that is, “to place” or “to spread out.” For example:

He laid his cards on the table.
The movers will lay the rugs for us.

Lay is also used metaphorically. For example:

They laid a trap for us.
They laid great stress on employees’ being on time.

In casual conversation, there is a tendency to (incorrectly) use lay in place of lie. For example:

X He just lays around the house all day.

Needless to say, this use of lay is completely out of place in formal language.

If you have trouble with lie and lay, it might be worthwhile to memorize the following sentence:

We lie around, but we lay something down.

The intransitive verb lie is irregular. The transitive causative verb lay is regular.



Use the correct form of lie or lay in the blank. The first question is done as an example.

We laid tiles in the bathroom floor.

1. Just ____________________ back and enjoy the flight.

2. The old house had ____________________ in ruins for years.

3. She ____________________ her hand on the dog to calm him down.

4. The foundation for the church had been ____________________ around 1880.

5. Fortunately, his wallet was ____________________ right where he had left.

6. When the exam is over, everyone must ____________________ their pencils down.

7. The little town ____________________ deep in the valley.

8. The best ____________________ plans of mice and men often go astray.

9. He ____________________ back and closed his eyes.

10. We have been ____________________ around far too long.

More modern causative verbs

Modern English has a number of verbs that act as causatives. Most of these verbs require an object plus an infinitive. For example:


However, two of the more important causative verbs, make and have, do not take an infinitive. Instead these two verbs require a base-form verb (base-form verbs are sometimes called bare infinitives). For example:


The fact that make and have take a base-form verb instead of the more common infinitives means that nonnative speakers often mistakenly use these two causative verbs with infinitives. For example:



Select the correct form by underlining either the infinitive or the base-form verb from the options inside the parentheses. The first question is done as an example.

The directions require us (to reboot / reboot) the computer.

1. We asked the people at the next table (to turn / turn) off their cell phones.

2. They directed us (to take / take) the left path back to the village.

3. The approaching deadline made all of us (to hurry / hurry) faster than was safe.

4. I always need to remind the children (to brush / brush) their teeth.

5. Please have him (to return / return) my call as soon as possible.

6. Everyone wanted Mary (to reject / reject) their offer.

7. Make them (to be / be) quiet!

8. The blinding light from the setting sun forced us (to pull / pull) off the road.

9. I had the gardener (to trim / trim) all of the hedges.

10. You can’t make me (to do / do) it!