Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond the Basics
〜させる is a verb suffix that adds a meaning of causation or permission to a verb. In other words, adding 〜させる means that someone is forced to do the action, or allowed to do the action. For example, if your mom forces your dad to eat bugs, you could say お母さんはお父さんに虫を食べさせる. Depending on the context though, it could also mean that she lets your dad eat bugs too… hey, I'm not judging. (Great source of protein, actually.) 🦗
At its core, 〜させる tells us that the subject of the sentence somehow causes someone else to carry out the action in the sentence. This is why verbs ending in 〜させる are said to be in the causative form. Whether this causation is forceful or done through permission, 〜させる emphasizes the fact that someone has influence over an action that someone else carries out.
Conjugating Verbs to Take 〜させる
The way 〜させる is added to verbs depends on their conjugation group. Here's an overview table:
|Godan||会う → 会わせる
立つ → 立たせる
写す → 写させる
割る → 割らせる
書く → 書かせる
泳ぐ → 泳がせる
死ぬ → 死なせる
学ぶ → 学ばせる
休む → 休ませる
|Ichidan||食べる → 食べさせる
起きる → 起きさせる
閉じる → 閉じさせる
|Irregular|| 来る → 来させる
する → させる
When it comes to godan verbs, calling the causative form 〜させる might actually be a bit of a misnomer. Instead of using さ, you'll need to look at the character that comes at the end of the verb in plain form, and transform it to the corresponding あ-column character on the kana chart. Then you can add せる. So if the plain form ending of your verb is む, the new ending will be 〜ませる. Let's look at 読む (to read) for example:
む+ ま + せる = 読ませる
If your verb ends in つ, your new causative ending will be 〜たせる. As in 立つ (to stand):
つ+ た + せる = 立たせる
Watch out for verbs that end in う, like 買う (to buy). You might expect 買う to become 買あせる, but this is actually incorrect. In this case, it becomes 買わせる:
う+ あ + せる = 買あせる
う+ わ + せる = 買わせる
For ichidan verbs, conjugating to causative form is a piece of cake. Just replace the 〜る ending of the plain form verb with 〜させる. For example, 食べる (to eat) becomes 食べさせる.
There are only two irregular verbs to remember. Not bad! The causative form of 来る (to come) is 来させる, and する (to do) becomes a totally-different-looking verb: させる.
The 〜さす Short Form
Although many textbooks don't cover this, there is another, shorter causative form in Japanese: 〜さす. It isn't always covered in textbooks because it tends to be limited to casual speech or dialects like Kansai-ben. Since the verb in this form ends in 〜さす or あ-column kana plus す, we call it the short causative form. In order to use this form, replace the 〜せる of the normal causative form with 〜す. Here's a chart of this short form, so you can compare it with the normal form above.
|Godan||会う → 会わす
立つ → 立たす
写す → 写さす
割る → 割らす
書く → 書かす
泳ぐ → 泳がす
死ぬ → 死なす
学ぶ → 学ばす
休む → 休ます
|Ichidan||食べる → 食べさす
起きる → 起きさす
閉じる → 閉じさす
|Irregular|| 来る → 来さす
する → さす
While overall this form is considered less standard than 〜させる, there are some 〜さす ending verbs that are commonly used as independent verbs. For example: 泳がす (to let someone swim or move around freely), 寝かす (to put someone to bed, to lay something down), or 沸かす (to boil water). Notice that they all have some causative or permissive meaning built in to them!
Forceful vs. Permissive 〜させる
The causative form can be interpreted as expressing forceful causation, or permissive causation. Which interpretation applies for a particular context depends on the relationship between three elements of the sentence:
- The action: this is the action described by the verb, and ends in 〜させる.
- The actor: this is the person (or thing) that does the action.
- The causer: this is the person (or thing) that causes the actor to do the action.
Let's try applying this to an actual sentence. Can you identify the action, actor, and causer?
- My mom made my little brother go to school.
The action is "go to school", the actor is "my little brother", and the causer is "my mom." Since my little brother probably didn't want to go to school, we're more likely to interpret this as a forceful causative, rather than a permissive one. That's why we used "she made him go" in the English translation. Now let's have a look at sentence that means "let someone do something":
- Koichi let Mami eat as much bacon as she liked.
In this example, the action is "eat bacon," the actor is Mami, and the causer is Koichi. Koichi let Mami eat as much bacon as she liked, he didn't make her eat it. We can assume this because the sentence includes 好きなだけ (as much as she likes), and if you know Mami you'll know she is crazy about bacon. So this is a permissive causative sentence.
As you can see, 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."
〜させて with Giving & Receiving Verbs
Clearly there is potential for ambiguity between forceful and permissive 〜させる. When you want to emphasize that the meaning is "let someone do something," you can use verbs of giving or receiving to clear this up. These verbs include あげる, やる, くれる and もらう. To use them, you'll need to change 〜させる into the て form, which lucky for you is easy. It conjugates like an ichidan verb, meaning you'll pop the 〜る off and change it to 〜て, then add your chosen giving/receiving verb. Yay!
〜させてくれる is used when you are the actor, and you're grateful that the causer has allowed you to do the action. For example:
- My parents let me go to university.
The honorific version of 〜くれる, which is 〜くださる works the same way, while adding an air of formality and politeness:
- Thank you for allowing me to go to university.
You can also use this form to ask for permission:
- Can you let me do that too?
- Can you let me think about it for a little longer?
Changing the verb to its negative form adds a touch more politeness, kind of like saying "Can't I~?" or "Won't you let me~?" in English:
- Would you please allow me to go to university?
When 〜させて is combined with あげる (to give), it adds the nuance that the causer is allowing the actor to do the action.
- 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 like this too. It gives a coarse, masculine feel to the sentence:
- If I won the lottery, I'd let you travel to Hawaii.
Lastly, when 〜させて is combined with もらう (to receive), it means 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 くれる, you can use the negative form to ask for permission. Questions formed with もらう are usually more polite than questions formed with くれる:
- Can you let me do that too?
- Could you allow me to go to university?
Beyond the Basics
〜させる with Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
When you change a verb to the causative form, you have to pay attention to whether the verb is transitive or intransitive. For a refresher, transitive verbs are those that take an object, and intransitive verbs are ones that usually don't. If you need even more of a refresher, check out our page on transitivity.
Let's start out with a reminder about "the actor" in causative sentences. The actor is the person in the sentence who is being caused to carry out the action by the causer. When the causative verb is intransitive, we can choose between particle を and particle に to mark the actor. That said, there are reasons why you might choose one over the other. 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.
If the action is carried out unwillingly though, you have to use を:
- ⭕️ 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 something uncontrollable (such as to surprise or to laugh), no matter if the actor does so willingly or not:
- ⭕️ 両親は私を笑わせた。
- My parents made me laugh.
When the actor is a thing, it obviously has neither intention nor will, so it is always marked by を.
- ⭕️ 雪でバナナを凍らせた。
- I let a banana freeze in the snow.
Now let's turn our attention to transitive verbs. These verbs take a direct object, which is marked by particle を. This means that we only have particle に leftover for marking the actor. As a general rule, you cannot have particle を appear twice in the same clause.
- My parents let me eat as much bacon as I liked.
- My parents made me eat bacon.
As you can see, the actor is marked by に in both sentences, regardless of the actor's willingness to 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.
The Causative-Passive 〜させられる
So far, we've learned how to say that someone forced/allowed someone else to do something. What if you want to say that you were forced to do something by someone else? In other words, when you are the actor, and you want to use the forceful causative, you'll need to add on to our trusty 〜させる ending. By adding on the passive 〜られる to form 〜させられる, you can express that you were forced against your will to do something by someone else. What a bummer, dude! 😤
Imagine you hate 納豆 (natto—that delicious bean treat that some people inexplicably dislike). Your mom says it's good for you, so she makes you eat it anyway. In this case you can say:
- I'm made to eat natto every day by my mom.
Your dad is also big on keeping you healthy, and he wants you to get more exercise:
- I was made to do a set of one hundred squats by my dad.
Ugh, why they gotta be that way? Just keep in mind that once 〜させる has been made passive, it loses its other meaning of "to let someone do something," and just keeps the meaning of being made to do something.
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.