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Causative verbs

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Causative verbs are used to cause or influence people to do things. In English, these are verbs like "make," "let," "have," and "get," when used in a sentence like "get Billy to eat a live worm."

The most common causative verbs in Chinese are:

  • 让 (ràng)
  • 叫 (jiào)
  • 请 (qǐng)
  • 使 (shǐ)

Structure

Subj. + [Causative Verb] + Person + Predicate

The predicate part of the pattern can be a verb or an adjective.

使 (shǐ) and 让 (ràng), when used as causative verbs, basically mean the same thing ("to make"), but 使 (shǐ) is used in more formal or written Chinese, while 让 (ràng) is used more in spoken Chinese.

"Make" vs. "Let"

It's worth noting that 让 is the most common causative verb in spoken Mandarin and is often translated into English as either "make" or "let." It may seem strange to speakers of English that these two very different words are the same word in Chinese. "Make" is kind of like forcing, and "let" is kind of like allowing, right? But in Chinese, the context generally makes clear how willing the object of the causative verb is. It's just something that takes time for learners to get used to.

Examples

  • 你 为什么 不 我 去 ?Nǐ wèishénme bù ràng wǒ qù?Why won't you let me go?
  • 这 部 电影 人 很 感动 。Zhè bù diànyǐng ràng rén hěn gǎndòng.This movie really moves people.
  • 那个 老人 我 想到 了 我 爷爷 。Nàge lǎorén ràng wǒ xiǎng dào le wǒ yéye.That old man made me think of my grandpa.
  • 他 不 听话 ,你 我 怎么办 ?Tā bù tīnghuà, nǐ jiào wǒ zěnmebàn?He won't listen. What would you have me do?
  • 他 偷偷 约 别的 女孩 ,你 我 怎么 想 ?Tā tōutōu yuē bié de nǚhái, nǐ jiào wǒ zěnme xiǎng?He secretly asked other girls out. Tell me what I'm supposed to think.
  • 你 儿子 在 学校 的 表现 老师 很 头疼 。Nǐ érzi zài xuéxiào de biǎoxiàn jiào lǎoshī hěn tóuténg.Your son's behavior at school gives the teacher quite a headache.
  • 我 想 你 帮 我 一 个 忙 。Wǒ xiǎng qǐng nǐ bāng wǒ yī gè máng.I want to ask you to do me a favor.
  • 能 不 能 你 明天 照顾 一下 我 的 狗 ?Néng bu néng qǐng nǐ míngtiān zhàogù yīxià wǒ de gǒu?Can I ask you to look after my dog tomorrow?
  • 他 的 演讲 使 听众 们 非常 激动 。Tā de yǎnjiǎng shǐ tīngzhòng men fēicháng jīdòng.His speech made the audience very excited.
  • 经济 危机 使 很多 公司 倒闭 了 ,也 使 很多 人 失去 了 工作 。Jīngjì wēijī shǐ hěn duō gōngsī dǎobì le, yě shǐ hěn duō rén shīqù le gōngzuò.The financial crisis caused lot of companies to go out of business and also caused many people to lose their jobs.

Obviously, not every causative verb maps perfectly to an English causative verb. You can see from these examples than in some cases the natural English translation doesn't even need a causative verb.

See also

Sources and further reading

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