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A causative is a morphological or syntactic structure in which a derived verbal structure (e.g. a derived verb stem or a verbal phrase) denotes the same process as its underived counterpart, with the addition of an active participant which causes that process to occur.

Typically the new participant is subject of the causative structure, and the "old" subject (subject of the underived verbal structure) is demoted to direct or indirect object or adjunct status. In some languages (e.g. French), the old subject of intransitives becomes a direct object (accusative) while the old subject of transitives becomes an indirect object (dative) (the old direct object retaining its accusative status), but other patterns also occur.


Spanish (verb phrase in which the "old" verb is an infinitive and the "old" subject a dative):

El padre le hizo com-er las papas.
the father 3s:DAT 3s:made eat-INF the potatoes
‘His father made him eat the potatoes’

Classical Nahuatl (from Carochi 1645:61, who terms these “verbos compulẛiuos”)

ni- mitz- cochī -tia
1s:Subj- 2s:Obj- sleep -CAUS
‘I put you to sleep, make you sleep’

The relationship of Causatives and Applicatives

Applicatives and causatives are closely related in a number of languages. Both introduce a new nominal argument to derive a new transitive verb from a more basic verb (whether transitive or intransitive). Applicatives however, rather than introducing a new subject, introduce a new object. (See further discussion of this relationship in the article on applicatives.)


The name “causative” is in English a transparent combination of the verb cause or the noun causation with the productive -(at)ive adjectivizing suffix.

See also


  • Carochi, Horacio. 1645. Arte de la Lengva Mexicana con la Declaración de los Adverbios della. México: Iuan Ruyz. Edición facsimilar, 1983. México: UNAM.

Other languages