Causative form in Japanese - させる and せる

Author Anna Baffa Volpe for article 'Causative form in Japanese - させる and せる'

Anna Baffa Volpe

9 min reading time

Today we are studying together a verbal form that will be very useful in daily conversation and in oral and written comprehension in Japanese: the Causative or Causative Form.

This form is conjugated using the suffix させる or せる, depending on whether the verb is Ichidan or Godan.

使()(えき) shieki is the term used to define this verb form


The causative form of the verb or causative

This form is used when the subject causes another person to perform an action.

Sometimes you induced, you forced the person to perform that action and other times you allowed the person to perform that given action.

  • 使()(えき)(けい) the form (形) causative (使役)

  • 使()(えき)(どう)() verbs (動詞) in causative form

How is the causative form formed?

Now let's see how the causative is formed for the various categories of verbs:

  • Ichidan, with a single base, omit the final syllable る and add the suffix させる, and for the negative させない
Verb without る+させる
  • Godan, with five distinct bases, using the B1 or negative base ending in "a", combined with the suffix せる and for the negative せない
B1 or verb base in a+せる
  • The causative form of する (to do) is させる

  • The causative form of ()る (to come) is ()させる

Some examples of verbs

  • ()write; ()かせる

  • ()read; ()ませる

  • (およ)swim; (およ)がせる

Exceptions for verbs ending in う preceded by a vowel; form the negative base by adding (wa):

  • ()う ⇨ ()わ causative ()わせる

  • ()う ⇨ ()わ causative ()わせる

  • ()(つだ)う ⇨ ()(つだ)わ causative ()(つだ)わせる

Causative form and obligations

The first use of the causative form refers to actions that one is forced, induced to do often against one's will.

(はは)(むすめ)玩具(おもちゃ)(へん)()けさせる。

The mother makes her daughter tidy up her daughter's toys.

The indicative word in these cases is (きょう)(せい) constriction, forcing, obligation

I didn't want or intend to do that thing, but...

()われたからしました。

I did it because I was asked.

(はは)(むすめ)(じゅく)()かせた。

Mom sent her daughter to remedial class.

Literally she made her daughter go to class; the daughter probably didn't feel like going to class that day, but she she had to.

もっと()(さい)()べさせろ。

Eat more vegetables!

In the sentence reported, in addition to the causative form, we also find the imperative one.

ずっと(れん)(しゅう)させれば、うまくなる。

If you practice them continuously, they will improve.

Here we have found the causative and conditional form of する.

The causative form also has the function of ()() indications, instructions

(かぜ)()ってきて(さむ)いので、(とも)(だち)(まど)()めさせた。

It was cold from the wind, so I made my friend close the window.

キャプテンがメンバーを(あつ)まらせた。

The coach gathered the party members.

Let's stay on this last sentence and add another element:

(かん)(とく)がキャプテンにメンバーを(あつ)めさせた。

The coach asked the captain to gather the members.

In this sentence we have all the elements with the various particles:

  • the subject expressed with

  • the person who is asked to do or asked to do something: expressed with

  • the thing requested expressed with the particle

Causative form and Japanese interpersonal relationships

In the causative form we find, as we have seen in the context of Keigo, the relationships between superior and inferior, the hierarchical relationships: (じょう)()(かん)(けい).

The causative form is generally used by a person considered superior at a hierarchical level towards another person of a lower degree.

(せん)(せい)(せい)()にレポートを()ませます。

The teacher asks the student to read the report.

Literally: The teacher makes the student read the report.

In this case the teacher asks the student to read and the student reads, according to a request and a response considered normal.

One of the translations of the causative form is rendered as asking someone to do something.

Other examples:

()(ちょう)(やま)()さんを(かい)()(しゅつ)(せき)させた。

The director asked Mr. Yamada to attend the meeting.

(せん)(せい)(がく)(せい)(かん)()を50(かい)ずつ()かせた。

The teacher made the students write each kanji 50 times.

Causative form and permissions

The subject allows the person to do something, allows the person to perform a given action.

(ちち)(むす)()(あそ)びに()かせた。

Dad let his son go to play.

The terms that summarize these cases are (きょ)(), permission, authorization and (ほう)(にん) non-intervention, neutrality

There are no constraints in these examples; you let the person do something for which the person himself has often requested or expressed his desire.

Obviously we can also use the negative form:

(はは)(むす)()をプールへ()かせなかった。

Mom didn't let her son go to the pool.

Causative form and emotions

Another particular use of the causative form can be in situations in which emotions and feelings are expressed that arise in relationships with other people:

(ゆう)(はつ) or (かん)(じょう)(げん)(いん) represent theemotional causes

()(ども)(はは)()に、CDをプレゼントして、お(はは)さんを(よろこ)ばせました。

The children made their mother happy by giving her a CD for Mother's Day.

()(いぬ)()(ぞく)みんなを(たの)しませている。

The puppy entertains the whole family.

Returning to the personal relationships between Japanese, the cases of use of the causative that fall under the obligations or permissions, concern people in a superior position (parents, teachers, owners) towards a person in a lower position.

In cases where emotions and feelings are expressed, there is no distinction and every person can use this form regardless of role and position.

(こま)らせてごめんなさい。

Sorry to bother you.

Transitive and intransitive verbs in the causative form

Intransitive verbs become transitive in the causative form and they acquire the particle indicating the object を.

  • (わら)to laugh intransitive verb

()(ども)(わら)っている。

The boy laughs.

()(ども)(わら)わせた。

I made the boy laugh.

Causative form and Keigo

We have seen in the post dedicated to Keigo, the honorific language, the use of the causative form, in particular the form in te combined with the verbs (いただ)く and もらう which mean receive.

()(てん)(しゃ)使(つか)わせて(いただ)けますか。

May I use your bike?

What I express in this sentence is will you allow me to use? or are you kind enough to let me use?.

今日(きょう)(えい)()のクラスをキャンセルさせてもらいました。

I canceled today's English class.

I took the liberty of deleting or I deleted with your permission.

The translation in these cases often reports the fact as it appears: I canceled in class.

In reality we want to communicate something that goes beyond the words expressed: we apologize in some way for the inconvenience and at the same time we thank you for your cooperation.


In this post we have seen the various representative uses of the causative form.

The advice is to practice starting from single verbs. You can take various everyday verbs and transform them into the causative form. And if you listen to Japanese films or anime in their original language, write down these forms and then review them again in your studies.

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