In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Causatives

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works and Textbooks
  • Online Resources
  • Monographs and Edited Volumes

Linguistics Causatives
Jurgis Pakerys
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0228


A causative is a linguistic expression referring to a situation consisting of a certain event and a force responsible for the realization of it, as seen in the following examples, where the addressee is understood as the cause of laughing of the addresser: English You make me laugh = Lithuanian Tu mane juok-in-i (2SG.NOM 1SG.ACC laugh-CAUS-PRS.2SG). These examples illustrate two major types of causative expressions, where make and -in- serve as markers of causative relations. English employs a free form, and the construction is termed periphrastic (or analytic, syntactic) causative, while Lithuanian uses an affix, and this type is referred to as morphological causative. There are other formal means beside affixation to form morphological causatives, such as reduplication, vowel, consonant, and tone alternations. The periphrastic causatives can be monoclausal or biclausal in their structure, and the monoclausal ones are sometimes specifically referred to as syntactic causatives. In addition to that, lexical causatives can be recognized if a predicate bearing no synchronically transparent relation to another predicate is interpreted as causative on semantic grounds. For example, in the English sentence You killed him, one may paraphrase kill as “cause to die” and argue that kill stands in causative relation with respect to die. Some authors also use the term “lexical causative” when talking about nonproductive and/or semitransparent formations, which typically disallow ambiguity of adverb scope. With regard to semantics, causatives can be factitive (as English make) or permissive (as English let), the causing force may operate directly or indirectly (by certain intermediate actions), and a number of other parameters can be shown to be relevant. It has been argued that these semantic parameters also bear a relation to the formal means of expression of causatives, such as direct causation expressed by morphological causatives and indirect one by periphrastic constructions. Within a larger context, causatives are interpreted as valency-changing operations, which add a causer as an agent (“you” in the previous examples) and demote the subject of the base predicate, which becomes the causee and can be marked as a certain object (“me” in the previous examples). The principles governing the marking of the causee, such as “the paradigm case” and “the semantic role approach,” have been one of the main topics in the study of causatives. The syntax of causative constructions is usually also discussed in the studies dealing with transitivity and voice (see further references in the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Linguistics “Transitivity and Voice”).

Introductory Works and Textbooks

Brief encyclopedic accounts of causatives are given in Comrie 2003 and Song 2006 and a more thorough but still quite compact treatment is Kulikov 2001. Comrie 1989 and Song 2001 are quality textbook chapters authored by prominent researchers of causatives in their introductions to linguistic typology; the latter one is more detailed and material rich. A good review of the main points of interest at the turn of the century is Shibatani 2002. Dixon 2000 (and its latest version, Dixon 2012, both cited under Typology) can be also used as an extensive introduction covering the major theoretical points and richly illustrated with examples from typologically diverse languages.

  • Comrie, Bernard. 1989. Language universals and linguistic typology: Syntax and morphology. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

    A classic introduction to linguistic typology with a special chapter on causative constructions (pp. 165–184) reflecting author’s earlier work on the subject (Comrie 1976, cited under Syntax and Semantics).

  • Comrie, Bernard. 2003. Causative. In International encyclopedia of linguistics. 2d ed. Vol. 1. Edited by William J. Frawley, 281–283. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A brief introduction presenting the main types of causatives.

  • Kulikov, Leonid. 2001. Causatives. In Language typology and language universals. Vol. 2. Edited by Marin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wulf Oesterreicher, and Wolfgang Raibl, 886–898. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

    A concise, yet detailed overview introducing the main formal and semantic types of causatives and discussing their syntactic interpretation. Includes extensive bibliography.

  • Shibatani, Masayoshi. 2002. Introduction: Some basic issues in the grammar of causation. In The grammar of causation and interpersonal manipulation. Edited by Masayoshi Shibatani, 1–22. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Introduction to Shibatani 2002 (cited under Monographs and Edited Volumes), which also serves as a good overview of the main problems of research at the beginning of the 21st century. Includes a discussion of earlier approaches and brief annotations of articles included in the volume.

  • Song, Jae Jung. 2001. Linguistic typology: Morphology and syntax. Harlow, UK: Longman.

    An introduction to linguistic typology with a special chapter (pp. 257–296) on causatives, which goes beyond the basics and discusses the main theoretical problems. The chapter is well illustrated with examples from diverse languages and includes a brief presentation of COMPACT, AND, and PURP types proposed by the author in his earlier work (pp. 293–296; see Song 1996 (cited under Monographs and Edited Volumes) for the definitions of these types). The reader should note that the latest textbook by Song with a similar title (Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) includes only a short discussion of causatives.

  • Song, Jae Jung. 2006. Causatives: Semantics. In Encyclopedia of language and linguistics. 2d ed. Edited by Keith Brown, 265–268. Oxford: Elsevier.

    A brief introduction with a focus on semantic aspects, such as direct and indirect causation, and their relation to the continuum of lexical–morphological–syntactic expression of causatives.

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