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5.7: The Causative and Sensory Verbs

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    The Causative

    The causative is used in English when one subject causes another subject to do an action.  In other words, the first subject wants something to be done, but that subject does not want to do the action himself or herself.  He causes the second subject to do the action.  Most of the time this is done by using an infinitive to show the action as well as the doer of the action.  For example, in the following sentences, the first subject wants the second subject to do an action.

    I want you to skip lines when doing homework.

    I urged my sons to study hard in schools.

    My wife asked me to wash the vegetables.

    The counselor advised the student to take a writing course.

    The policeman forced the car thief to stop the stolen car on the highway.

    However, there is another group of verbs which use a bare infinitive.  A bare infinitive is an infinitive without the word to in front of it.  These bare infinitive verbs are the following:

    Make           Let            Have            *Help

    With these verbs, the second verb ALWAYS appears in its base form; they do not show verb tense.  The verb tense is shown by the four causative verbs and not by the second verb.  Look at the following examples to understand how these verbs are used.

    My wife made my son pick up the dirty clothes off his bedroom floor.

    I used to always let my students drink drinks in my class.

    My sister had me write a letter to our aunt.

    *My friends helped me move some furniture in my house.

    *My friends helped me to move some furniture in my house.

    The policeman made the people get away from the scene of the crime.

    My mother let my brother, sister, and me play outside all the time when we were young.

    The city had my neighbor clean up his dirty front yard.

    The teacher helped the student correct his composition.

    *Help is a special verb in English.  It can be followed be an infinitive or a bare infinitive. There is no difference in meaning.  Both are good.

    Exercise 29: Answer the following questions using the Causative Verbs, please.

    1. Who has helped you to learn English vocabulary?


    2.  What did your mother farce you to do as a child?


    3.  What did your father let you do as a young boy or girl?


    4.  What do you want to do in the next ten years?


    5.  What did your teachers have you do when you were in school?


    6.  Who made you clean your bedroom a long time ago?


    7.  Who advised you to study English?


    8.  What do you help someone to do every week?


    9.  What do you want someone to do for you in the future?


    10.  What language do you need to speak in America?


    11.  Who did you have repair your toilet when it broke?


    12.  What do teachers ask students to do all over the world?

    Sensory Verbs

    In addition to the above verbs using the bare infinitive, the bare infinitive is used with verbs of perception (or sensory verbs).  These are the verbs that refer to the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, feeling and tasteThese verbs can use either the bare infinitive or the present participle after them.  The following are the most common sensory verbs.

    see               hear               taste

    watch           listen to

    notice           feel

    observe         smell


    I saw the boy move his hands.

    I saw the boy moving his hands.

    My son smelled the chicken cooking in the kitchen

    I felt the earth shake during the earthquake.

    I felt the earth shaking during the earthquake.

    I can hear the girl sing every afternoon. 

    I can hear the girl singing right now.

    It tasted bad and I felt the alcohol burning my throat as it went down.

    I was listening to the music play on the radio.

    I was listening to the music playing on the radio.

    I often observe my students studying in the language lab.

    I noticed the students copying each other’s papers during the exam.

    I have noticed students cheat on exams over the years.

    The difference between the bare infinitive and the present participle is that the bare infinitive just gives the idea of the very, while the present participle stresses the action of the verb.  The present participle wants the listener or reader to “see” the action of the verb.

    Exercise 30: Answer the following questions using sensory verbs followed by the bare infinitive, please.

    1.  Where do you see children play basketball?


    2.  When can you smell food cooking?


    3.  When can you hear music play?


    4.  When do you notice a warning light come on in your car?


    5.  When you hear a doorbell ring in your house, what do you do?


    6.  When there is an earthquake, what do you feel the earth do?


    7.  When you are scared, what do you feel your heart do?


    8.  When you smell something burning in the kitchen, what do you do?


    9.  What do you hear someone do when they are sleeping?  (Use the word snore.)


    10.  What did you observe someone doing last week?


    11.  What do you listen to someone doing something?


    12.  How do you feel when you hear children laugh?


    Exercise 31:  Use the following sensory verbs or causative verbs in good sentences, please.

    1.  let


    2. smell


    3.  hear


    4.  help


    5. force


    6.  see


    7.  feel


    8.  listen to


    9.  make


    10.  have


    11.  watch


    12.  observe

    5.7: The Causative and Sensory Verbs is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Don Bissonnette.

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