Table of Contents
- What Is させる?
- Elements of させる
- Structure of させる
- させて with あげる,くれる and もらう
- Causative Passive させられる
- Idiomatic Uses
What Is させる?
〜させる is added to the end of a verb to show that someone (or something) causes someone (or something) to do something. For this reason, verbs ending in 〜させる are in what is called the causative form.
A causative verb gives the meaning that the person who causes the action either lets or makes someone else do the action. The difference between being allowed and being made to do something all depends on whether the actor wanted to do the action or not. In both cases, though, it emphasizes the fact that someone has influence over the action that someone else carries out.
To make a verb causative, you change the verb from its る form (in other words, the dictionary form) to its causative させる form. For example, 食べる (to eat) becomes 食べさせる (to cause someone to eat), 飲む (to drink) becomes 飲ませる (to cause someone to drink) and する (to do) becomes させる (to cause someone to do). You can see how 〜る changes into 〜させる on this page.
Elements of させる
Japanese causative sentences generally have three component parts:
- Action: something done by the actor
- Actor: someone (or something) who carries out that action under the influence of the causer
- Causer: someone (or something) who causes the actor to carry out the action
For example, if your mom made your younger brother go to school even though he didn't want to, the action is "go to school," the actor is your brother, and the causer is your mom:
- My mom made my little brother go to school.
This is the equivalent of "make someone do something" in English. Now let's have a look at the equivalent of "let someone do something":
- Koichi let Mami eat as much bacon as she liked.
In this example, the action is "to eat bacon," the actor is Mami, and the causer is Koichi. Koichi just gave Mami permission to eat as much bacon as she liked, and that permission caused Mami to carry out the action, so this is a causative sentence too.
The difference between these two sentences is how the actor feels about the action. If it's against their will, 〜させる is like "make someone do something." If it's what they want to do, then 〜させる shows permission, and is the equivalent of "let someone do something."
If the causer and the actor are both people, the causer is usually someone who is equal to or higher than the actor in terms of status. So for example, it would sound very rude if you used it to talk about something you let or made your boss do:
- I'm going to let/make the president come to my birthday.
This is generally the case in English too!
Structure of させる
When the action is intransitive, the actor can be marked by を or に. There are some general guidelines that can help you choose between the two. Let's take a look at these guidelines with the help of a few example sentences.
に and を are both fine if the actor carries out an action willingly:
- ⭕️ 両親は私を好きなだけ泳がせた。
- My parents let me swim as much as I liked.
You have to use を if the actor carries out an action unwillingly:
- ⭕️ 両親は私を無理矢理泳がせた。
- My parents made me swim.
You also have to use を if the verb is expressing emotion (such as to surprise or to laugh), regardless of the actor's intention:
- ⭕️ 両親は私を笑わせた。
- My parents made me laugh.
When the actor is a thing, obviously it has neither intention nor will, so it is always marked by を.
- ⭕️ 私はタオルを濡らした。
- I made the towel wet.
When the action is transitive, the direct object is marked by を, so the actor is marked by に regardless of their intention. This is because you can't have を twice in a sentence:
- My parents let me eat as much bacon as I liked.
- My parents made me eat bacon.
Lastly, the actor and the causer are frequently omitted in Japanese when it's understood from the context. For example, in the following sentences, the parts in parentheses can be omitted in Japanese:
- (You) made me mad!
- They made (me) mad.
させて with あげる,くれる and もらう
When you want to emphasize that the meaning is "to let someone do something," you can put 〜させる into the て form and combine it with a giving/receiving verb such as あげる, くれる and もらう). When these words are combined, the meaning is always "to let someone do something." This is a handy way to make your meaning clear and is used a lot in conversation.
For example, if you combine 〜させる and 〜てくれる, this gives 〜させてくれる. Since the basic meaning of 〜てくれる is "to be kind enough to do something for someone," 〜させてくれる definitely means "let" rather than "make."
- My parents let me go to university.
- Can you let me think about it for a little longer?
The honorific version of 〜くれる, which is 〜くださる also works, and makes it sound very formal and polite.
- Thank you for allowing me to go to university.
When it's in the negative, 〜くれる becomes 〜くれない. In this case, it adds the nuance that the actor doesn't allow you to do something and you don't appreciate it.
- My parents don't allow me to go to university.
You can also use this form to ask for permission:
- Can you let me do that too?
- Could you please allow me to go to university?
- Let me help you, please.
Now you can see where one of the most common Japanese words, 〜ください (please), comes from.
When 〜させる is combined with 〜てあげる, it adds the nuance that the actor is doing a favor of allowing you to do something and you should appreciate it.
- I'm planning to let you go to university.
- If you don't behave well, I won't let you go to the party.
やる, the rougher version of あげる, works too. It gives a coarse, masculine feel to the sentence:
- If we won the lottery, I'd have you travel to Hawaii.
Lastly, when 〜させる is combined with 〜てもらう, it adds the nuance that the actor was allowed to do something by the causer and they appreciate it. The combination is equivalent to "be allowed to" or "may I?" in English.
- Now, please allow me to introduce myself.
- Thankfully, I'm still working at Tofugu.
いただく, the honorific version of もらう, makes it sound more formal and polite:
- Please allow me to introduce our product.
As with 〜てくれる, you can use the negative form to ask for permission. Questions formed with 〜てもらう are more polite than questions formed with 〜てくれる:
- Can you let me do that too?
- Could you allow me to go to university?
Causative Passive させられる
We just learned 〜させる is commonly combined with 〜てくれる, あげる, もらう when the meaning is "let someone do something." On the other hand, when the meaning is "make someone do something," 〜させる is often combined with 〜られる (Passive) to give 〜させられる.
- My mom made me eat green pepper.
- I was forced to eat green pepper by my mom.
The difference between the two is that the first sentence is focused on what the mother has done to her kid (from the point of view of the mother), whereas the second sentence is focused on how the kid was affected by the mother (from the point of view of the kid). By shifting the viewpoint to the actor, it emphasizes the unwillingness of the action. So 〜させられる (Passive) is often translated as "to be made to do something":
- I didn't want to, but I was forced to drink alcohol.
- Before watching TV, I was made to do my homework.
To read more about the causative passive 〜させられる, check out our dedicated page 〜させられる.
There are a lot of idioms that use verbs ending in 〜させる.
話に花を咲かせる: This literally means to make blossoms bloom in talk, but idiomatically means to have an animated conversation.
- The two had a lively conversation about their past.
This literally means to make someone's words choke, and it is often used when someone is choked up with emotion:
- Kyouko could only say "goodbye" and then she was too choked up to talk.
欠かせない: This is the negative form of 欠かせる (to make/let something lack), and it means "a must" or "essential."
- Water is essential for life.