Using causative when speaking

Hey everyone,

I’ve been doing a bunch of italki lessons lately, and it’s tons of fun.
I’m trying to get better at conjugating verbs correctly on the spot, and it’s slowly getting better.

However, I’m currently having a bit of trouble with the causative form. I recognize it when listening and reading, but when speaking, I still find it hard to recognize exactly when it’s appropriate to use the causative form. I know how to form it and the textbook “let/make someone do something” definition, but it seems like it is used in a much wider sense in Japanese.

I would like to start building a kind of “mental map” of situations/thoughts/emotions where it makes sense to use the causative form.

What are the twists on a thought or the detail of an emotion that would cause (笑) you to use the causative form, instead of any other form?


I guess you’d use the causative in Japanese in the same sorts of situations that you’d use it in English. “Alice made Bob do her homework.” “Mary let her son eat a whole bowl of ice cream.”

The real fun one is causative-passive. Someone was made to do something by someone else. :slightly_smiling_face:


This is a form that I struggle with implementing in speaking, so I’m by no means an authority on this haha, but here’s my take having spent the last couple weeks working on causative. Plus I live in Japan and having been especially trying to pay attention to how people use it irl.

For me the most clear/obvious time to use it is talking about emotions and how things made you feel. So for example: 昨日の卒業式はめっちゃ感動した!泣かせた!(Yesterday’s graduation ceremony was touching. It made me cry!)

It’s often also used in business formal situations and tbh that’s when I hear it used most (lol office life).

These situations don’t pop up as much in every day life, but if you’re talking about your childhood, you can use it to talk about things your parents made you do (I think that’s this typical textbook example) 子供の時、お母さんは野菜を食べさせた。My mom made me eat vegetables as a child.

An important aspect that I learned that I haven’t seen mentioned in textbooks much, is that causative expresses a kind of power imbalance. So while in English, you could say “The employee was very persuasive and made the bosses see her point of view,” you couldn’t use causative here in Japanese because grammatically, low ranking employees can’t make bosses do something. You also can’t use causative when referring to friends, because friends are equals (unless you’re really close friends and are going for more of a lighthearted comedic tone). There inherently has to be a hierarchical relationship when talking about a person making another person do something.

And at the end of the day, it’s not a form that I hear used all that often in daily life. I think it’s a form that you really only use when the situation calls for it


I think I most often use it when saying something like “Allow me to…” to a superior.

For instance, when “asking” to stay home when you’re sick, it’s common to say something like 休ませていただきます (I humbly receive the honor of you letting me stay home). It doesn’t map well to English, but it’s very commonly heard.


It does sound ridiculous in English.

I think I also see causative used for body parts or something like that? When reading that is. Things that in English would usually “just happen” but for some reason in Japanese are made to happen. I can’t think of any examples, but I think it’s something like that.

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Some of them are listed here:

I don’t really get either why causative is used in those descriptive phrases related to body part.

Edit: maybe the idea is to say that “the situation” cause the body part to verb ? It seems to be used often in case of involuntary reaction.


Ah, I guess you mean situations where the する verb is naturally intransitive, and so a transitive version will use the causative by necessity?

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I mean exactly the type of examples in the Stack Exchange link @Arzar33 posted.

So, not something like 接続させる, for “to connect (transitively)” since 接続する means “to connect (intransitively)”.

I’ve never noticed any kind of specific relation between causative and body parts. Not to say I haven’t see them together, just that I never thought about it being a special thing.

I always think of 唇を尖らせる when I think about this

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It’s possible it comes up mostly in literature, so maybe you don’t see it as much as the other usages for that reason.

This instantly made me think of a sentence like その動画は私を笑わせた。That video made me laugh.


I just learn the causative this week and one of the textbook exercises was the subordinate 部下 volunteering to do tasks for the superior 部長 using causative verb in te form + kudasai.


This use of causative highlights one of the things about Japanese culture that bugs me. People are too subservient. If you are offering to help with something why should you have to demean yourself and phrase it like “please let me have the honor of doing this work”? :expressionless:

Even in English we say “Let me give you a hand with that”. We usually say it when we’re going to do it whether they “approve” or not, similarly too.


I see politeness as a social lubricant. It makes things run smoother. Perhaps, it would be more putting off if we could not see under the veneer of politeness and took everything literally. From my favorite Japanese grammar book:

Honjitsu wa yasumasete itadakimasu.

Two verbs. No subjects, no objects, no agents, nobody. And the Honjitsu wa tells us only that these two incredible verbs are happening “today.” Despite this, the sentence is both complete and perfectly clear. As the great Zen master Dogen himself might have translated it, "Gone fishin’."ls that all it means?! Well no, not literally, but it is just as much of a cliche in its culture as “Gone fishin”'or “Closed for the Day” might be in ours. It can be a lot more fun, though, if we look at it closely. The final verb of the sentence is itadakimasu, whichtells us that the unnamed subject is going to humbly receive something from someone more exalted. And what the subject is going to humbly receive is the exalted person’s doing of the causative part of the -te form verb that
immediately precedes the itadakimasu.

So, what’s going on in this yasumasete that the more exalted person is going to do? Yasumu is the verb meanung “to rest,” and it is in the causative form, which means that our exalted individual will cause someone else to rest,i.e., he is going to let the humble receiver do the resting.

This is all phrased in tremendously polite language, but the fact remains that the shop owner is telling the customer that, whatever the customer may think of the matter, the owner is closing the shop for the day. ltadaku is performed by the subject, at his own discretion, and it carries the message “I take it upon myself in all humility to get from you… " It’s like those signs‘、Thank you for not smoking,” which always impress me as having an underlying growl that makes them even more intimidating than a plain “No Smoking.”

If we go back to our final verb and call the unknown subject of that X and the exalted other person Y, we’ve got something like “X will humbly receive Y’s letting X rest.”

Now, who are X and Y? How can a sign like this, with no surrounding text, mean anything to anybody? Here, the context comes from the real world. The sign hangs in a shop window and the would-be customer finds the place closed, the sign telling him that “(We, the shopkeepers,) humbly receive (from you, the exalted customer,) (your) letting (us) rest today.”

A completely naturalized translation for the sign might simply be “Closed,” though that way we lose the interesting cultural difference. Perhaps “We thank you for allowing us to have the day off” or "We appreciate your permitting us to have the day off " would begin to convey some sense of the respectful tone of the Japanese in natural-sounding English. But make no mistake about it: the owner has gone fishin’.

Jay Rubin “Making sense of Japanese”


This instantly made me think of a sentence like その動画は私を笑わせた。That video made me laugh.

An important aspect that I learned that I haven’t seen mentioned in textbooks much, is that causative expresses a kind of power imbalance.

@Saida @Meghana
It seems to me that there is somewhat of a mismatch between using causative as a polite way of addressing “superiors”, and then the plain way of “something/someone made me do something”.

In other words, would 「その動画は私を笑わせた」sound natural in a converation among friends/equals, since 動画 is inanimate?

Similarly, how about the sentence「ケンは私を笑わせた」(assuming ケン is your friend)?
Does changing the “thing” that “made/let you” do something from being inanimate to being a person change anything in this regard?

Yes, it is unnatural to give an inanimate object an action like that.


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