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)
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.
- 你 为什么 不 让 我 去 ？Why won't you let me go?
- 这 部 电影 让 人 很 感动 。This movie really moves people.
- 那个 老人 让 我 想到 了 我 爷爷 。That old man made me think of my grandpa.
- 他 不 听话 ，你 叫 我 怎么办 ？He won't listen. What would you have me do?
- 他 偷偷 约 别的 女孩 ，你 叫 我 怎么 想 ？He secretly asked other girls out. Tell me what I'm supposed to think.
- 你 儿子 在 学校 的 表现 叫 老师 很 头疼 。Your son's behavior at school gives the teacher quite a headache.
- 我 想 请 你 帮 我 一 个 忙 。I want to ask you to do me a favor.
- 能 不 能 请 你 明天 照顾 一下 我 的 狗 ？Can I ask you to look after my dog tomorrow?
- 他 的 演讲 使 听众 们 非常 激动 。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 。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.
Sources and further reading
- Yoyo Chinese: The word "rang"
- Chinese: An Essential Grammar, Second Edition (pp. 170-2) →buy
- Integrated Chinese: Level 2, Part 2 (pp. 120-1) →buy
- 卓越汉语－公司实战篇 (pp. 19) [ →buy]