The causative is used to express “make” or “let” someone do something”. In fact, we’ve already met one way to form these expressions when 〜てもらう was introduced. As we saw, this structure was not entirely neutral—often implying that the speaker was grateful to the person performing the action.

The causative form introduced below lets us form a similar expression, but it is more neutral and closer in meaning to “make someone do”. Furthermore, depending on the context, it can also be used to mean “let someone do”. Let’s take a look at the verb conjugations.

Group 1

We change the u-ending syllable to an a-ending syllable and add せる. The only exception is う-ending verbs where the ending syllable changes to わ.

to goかせる
to sayせる
to drinkませる
to go homeかえかえらせる

Group 2

For all group 2 verbs we remove the る and add させる.

to seeさせる
to leaveさせる
to existいるいさせる
to borrowりるりさせる

Note, however, that some causative conjunctions are rarely used. させる, for example, means “to make see” but instead we would say “to show”, which is the verb せる.

Group 3

to doするさせる
to comeさせる

The required particle for the person who will be made to perform the action depends on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. For transitive verbs we require the target particle.

To make your son clean his room.
To make a friend quit smoking.
The teacher made me write an article.

For intransitive verbs, the agent of the action takes the object particle.

Let children play in the park.
The teacher made me stand.

And for those verbs that can be both transitive and intransitive (e.g. to wait), the correct particle will depend on the sentence structure.

Make her wait.
Make the applicant wait for a reply.

Nor does the agent have to be a person. Certain verbs are effectively changed into transitive verbs by the causative. The intransitive verb “to finish” is probably the most common example.

To finish the job [to make the job finish itself].
To accelerate progress.

The causative can be confusing for learners because there is no explicit distinction between “make someone do” and “let someone do”—the meaning is determined by the context.

Please let me go home.

This is clearly a request and so “let” is the appropriate translation.

To make your son clean his room.

It’s reasonable to assume your son wasn’t asking your permission to clean his room.

To let children play in the park.
Nor would forcing children to play in the park sound natural.

The te form of the causative with あげる and くれる can be used to avoid ambiguity.

To let children play in the park.
My Mum let me play in the park.

Care also needs to be taken when deciding between the causative and 〜てもらう. Below the first example sentence is more natural as it is in the translation. The second sentence is still grammatically correct, but would not be used.

To have the doctor take a look at a rash.
To make the doctor look at a rash.

Finally, in casual conversation the せて te form of the causative often gets transformed to して which is easier to pronounce.

Won’t you let me go home?
If you don’t mind my saying [if you’ll let me say], I think that proposal is going to be difficult to put into effect.

We will see the combination of the te form of the causative and もらう later when honorifics are introduced.

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