Friday, August 30, 2019

Lexical Causative Verbs

Among verb types, lexical causative verbs are transitive verbs that form causative sentences without being conjugated to the causative form. For example:
  • musume ga naku
    The daughter cries.
  • musume wo nakasu
    To cause: the daughter cries.
    To make the daughter cry.

Above, we have the intransitive verb naku 泣く, "to cry," and the lexical causative verb nakasu 泣かす, "to make cry." Together, they form an ergative verb pair. The article about verb pairs explains the grammar in detail. This article will focus only on the verbs themselves.


In Japanese, the causative form of verbs ends in ~aseru. Besides the causative form, many verbs form ergative verb pairs with have lexical causative verbs, which usually do not end in ~aseru.
  • nan'i-do ga agaru
    The difficult-level rises.
  • nan'i-do wo ageru
    To cause: the difficult-level rises.
    To raise the difficult-level.

For example, above we have the unaccusative verb agaru and its causative ageru, which translate to "to rise" and "to raise" in English respectively. If you raise something, you cause it to rise.

The causative form of agaru would be agaraseru 上がらせる, and it's not used above, although it can be used in certain cases.

Like the causative form, the subject of a lexical causative verb is a causer, and the object is the causee. A lexical causative verb can be further conjugated to add a causer causing the causer to cause the causee to do something. Observe:
  1. iwa ga ugoku
    The boulder moves.
    • ugoku - non-causative verb.
  2. Tarou ga iwa wo ugokasu
    Tarou causes: the boulder moves.
    Tarou moves the boulder.
    • ugokasu - lexical causative verb.
  3. Hanako ga Tarou ni iwa wo ugokaseru
    Hanako causes: Tarou causes: the boulder moves.
    Hanako causes: Tarou moves the boulder.
    Hanako makes Tarou move the boulder.
    • ugokaseru - causative form.

Although most lexical causative verbs start with the same syllables, that's not always the case. For example: dasu 出す, "to put out," is the causative of deru 出る, "to leave," ireru 入れる, "to put in," is the causative of hairu 入る, "to enter.

The verb korosu 殺す, "to kill," can be said to be the causative of shinu 死ぬ, "to die." That's because in order to say "to cause someone to die," you just say "to kill" instead. The causative form shinaseru 死なせる is used for the permissive causative meaning: "to let someone die."

Lexical causative verbs can have the permissive causative meaning sometimes, too. For example:
  • kami ga nobiru
    The hair becomes longer.
  • kami wo nobasu
    To let [your] hair become longer.

The permissive meaning comes from the fact that people normally cut their hair to stop them from growing to much. Thus, the causer inherently forbids the "growing" event to happen. To cause it to happen, the causer must deliberately "permit" it to happen, by stopping cutting their hair.

Some lexical causative verbs are ditransitive.
  • seito ga seito kara suugaku wo osowaru
    Students learn math from the teacher.
    Students are taught math by the teacher.
  • sensei ga seito ni suugaku wo oshieru
    The teacher causes: the students learn math.
    The teacher teaches the students math.

In cases like above, the non-causative verb resembles the passive voice, rather than the causative verb resembling a causative sentence.

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