Causative Requests (Update)

Time for some serious old school How to Japonese now that Murakami madness is over.

Causative tense is not the easiest to get used to. Once you’ve mastered it, though, it’s really flexible. A couple of things to note before we get to today’s little trick:

– It’s important to remember that causative tense can just as easily mean “let/allow someone to do X” as it can “make someone do X.”

– In my very first set of posts, I introduced the 敬語 form 〜させていただきます. Basically this is just a fancy way to say 〜する. You can turn it into a formal request easily enough by saying 〜させていただけませんか or 〜させていただけませんでしょうか.

And now for today’s trick. There’s also a cool way to use the causative tense as an informal request. Normal requests take the form 〜してもいい or 〜していい, which literally means “Is it okay if I X?” Make that more normal English and you get “May I X?”

If you use the causative straight up – 〜させて – with a little rising intonation on the end, you can say, “Lemme do X.” You can make it even more casual by saying 〜さして, which is a slurred version and slightly easier to say. I remember hearing one of the English teachers I worked with use this. Whenever he was looking at papers or worksheets that the students were holding he would say, ちょっと見さして. “Let me take a look.” 見る is a fairly controversial case, apparently, but I think this works with most verbs. ちょっと食べさせて is an especially good one that will earn you some freebies from friends.


As requested, a version for linguists:

Standard causative is ~saseru. The perfective tense of this is ~saseta. The imperative form is ~sasete, which is often slurred to ~sashite (or ~sasite depending on the romanization you use). This is a great form for informal requests. You can change miru to misasete, or taberu to tabesasete if you want someone to “let you” take a look at something or have a taste of something. Important here to remember the flexibility of the causative tense.

Bonus update thought:

I think using させて・さして (sasete/sashite) on its own must always imply that the speaker wants to be let/made to do the action. If you’re trying to get someone to make or let someone else, then you probably need to use させてあげて・さしてあげて (sasete agete / sashite agete)? Hmm…when I think about it, させてあげてd (sasete agete) feels like it would always be “let” rather than “make.”

10 thoughts on “Causative Requests (Update)

  1. ooh, do translate for us linguists who study the Japanese causative yet are kanji/hiragana illiterate. I know the causative verbs end in -(s)aseru or -(s)aseta.

  2. Do you hear the さして in Tokyo much? I use it all of the time now, but I suspect that might be familial influence/local Fukushima-ben. For 見る or 見せる often just 見して is used…….I am not even so sure that is super casual – I have heard things like ちょっと飲まさしてもらえない? used as in “let me have a little taste/sip”

    Anyway, good tip. Possibly limited to a view verbs however maybe? Group 1 -る verbs would not work for starters.

  3. Jean: No problem. I’ll update the post.

    Soma: Now that you mention it, I’m not sure if I hear the さして in Tokyo or on TV more often. I think it might be universal, though…if I was hearing it only on TV it’d have to be Kansai-ben.

  4. Interesting post. Now that I see it mentioned, I believe I’ve heard ~させて slurred to ~さして…but I never really consciously connected it as a grammar point before. I guess it’s just one of those things, like how すみません can be slurred to すません or すいません.

  5. In Kansai-ben, 〜して and 〜した are always used in ichidan verbs ending with 〜せる. This includes all causative verbs, as well as verbs such as 見せる, e.g. 「ちょっと見してくれへん?」.

  6. Dude, I totally got dinged for calling -te the imperative form the other week. You’d better watch your back.

    I just want to summarize the “miru 見る is controversial” thing for non-reading linguists: “miru” does indeed become “misaseru” if you add the “-saseru” ending according to modern rules. The controversy is whether it is acceptable to use this form instead of “miseru”, which is a separate verb meaning “show”. As far as I can tell there are two prongs to the controversy: (1) “misaseru” and “miseru” are equivalent, therefore the former is redundant, therefore it should not be used (you wouldn’t say “shisaseru” either, just “saseru”), and (2) “miseru” itself can be analyzed as “miru” + OJ causative suffix, therefore, “misaseru” is an ugly, modern usurper, functionally and semantically identical but aesthetically and morally inferior, and should be avoided. I’ve seen similar complaints about 着せる vs 着させる.

    The counterarguments to the above include (1) to some speakers at least, they aren’t equivalent; everyone has “miseru” in their vocabulary, and the fact that some people also use “misaseru” indicates that for them it performs a function that “miseru” can’t, and (2) whatever, dude, living Japanese isn’t bound by your rules and regulations, and these forms sound fine to me.

  7. Incidentally the case for non-equivalence is more obvious with “kiseru” vs “kisaseru”. The former means “put clothing on someone” (e.g. a child) and the latter means “cause/allow someone to put clothing on”. Because there is an indirect object the difference is more stark, but then compare to “miseru” vs “misaseru” using a fanciful but parallel definition: “put something into someone’s visual cortex” vs “cause/allow someone to put something into their visual cortex”. The difference, or at least the possibility of some speakers keeping the two conceptually separate, becomes a little clearer.

  8. Pingback: How to Japonese» Blog Archive » 号外 – もうちょっと聞かせてって言ったでしょう?

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