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French Causative Grammar

Objects and agreement


Certain aspects of grammar are a little tricky with the causative. First of all, you always have two verbs: faire (in various conjugations) plus an infinitive. It might seem strange, but it's important to understand that the infinitive is sometimes faire as well, as shown in some of the examples on pages 1 and 2: "to have something made" or "to have something done."

Objects and object pronouns
The causative construction always has a direct object, which may be either the receiver or the agent. When replacing the direct object with an object pronoun, that pronoun is placed in front of faire.

   Je fais écrire une lettre. > Je la fais écrire. (lettre [la] is the receiver)
   I'm having a letter written. > I'm having it written.

   Je fais écrire David. > Je le fais écrire. (David [le] is the agent)
   I'm having David write. > I'm having him write.

In a sentence with both a receiver and an agent, only one can be the direct object—the receiver, which makes the agent the indirect object. As explained on page 1, this is indicated by the addition of a preposition in front of the agent. In other words, with the addition of a receiver, the agent who was the direct object in the second example above turns into the indirect object here. (For the proper word order, see double object pronouns.)

   Je fais écrire une lettre par David. > Je la lui fais écrire.
   (Lettre [la] is the receiver, David [lui] is the agent)
   I'm having David write a letter. > I'm having him write it.

   Il fait manger les pommes par sa fille. > Il les lui fait manger.
   (Pommes [les] is the receiver, fille [lui] is the agent)
   He's making his daughter eat the apples. > He's making her eat them.

   Nous faisons visiter la ferme à nos enfants. > Nous la leur faisons visiter.
(Ferme [la] is the receiver, enfants [leur] is the agent)
   We have our children visit the farm. > We have them visit it.

Note that with the reflexive causative, the reflexive pronoun always indicates the agent and is always the indirect object:

   Je me fais laver les cheveux. > Je me les fais laver.
   I'm having my hair washed. > I'm having it washed.

   Peux-tu te faire faire la robe ? > Peux-tu te la faire faire ?
   Can you have the dress made? > Can you have it made?


Normally when a compound tense is preceded by a direct object, there needs to be agreement (learn more). However, this is not the case with the causative, which has no direct object agreement.

   Il a fait travailler les enfants. > Il les a fait travailler. (not "faits")
   He made the children work. > He made them work.

   J'ai fait étudier Christine. > Je l'ai fait étudier. (not "faite")
   I made Christine study. > I made her study.

Faire is just one of a number of French verbs that can be followed by an infinitive: see my lesson on semi-auxiliary verbs.

Page 1 - Faire + infinitive
Page 2 - Se faire + infinitive
Page 3 - Causative with objects and agreement
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