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Kim Tae tries to explain the difference between the "make" and "let" usage of causative verbs. I need a bit of help translating the various possibilities into English.

What would be the best translations in English for each of these sentences?

  1. 私は 僕が 食べさせる (tabesaseru)
  2. 私は 僕が 食べさせてくれる (tabesasetekureru)
  3. 私は 僕が 食べさせてあげる (tabesaseteageru)
  4. 私は 僕が 食べさせた (tabesaseta)
  5. 私は 僕が 食べさせてくれた (tabesasetekureta)
  6. 私は 僕が 食べさせてあげた (tabesaseteageta)
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    私=わたし “I”; 僕=ぼく “I”. these words are in different registers. so these sentences don’t make much sense to begin with. – A.Ellett Aug 2 at 16:23
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As A.Ellet pointed out in a comment, 「私は僕が」 doesn't make sense, so I modified some of the pronouns (or replaced them by nouns) in your question to make the sentences valid. Also, note that I placed pronouns that would be usually omitted in a natural conversation between brackets [ ] . Finally, I also added some complements 野菜【やさい】/ アイスクリーム to make the context clear, those complements wouldn't be necessary in a conversation to figure out whether it's "make" or "let", as long as we could tell the difference from other elements in the context. I added them just for clarity.


①[私が]子供【こども】に野菜【やさい】を食べさせる。

"I make the child eat vegetables" (context: children usually do not like vegetables, so you "force" them to eat) .

②[私が]子供【こども】にアイスクリームを食べさせる。

"I let the child eat an ice cream" (context: children usually want to make an ice cream, even if it's not so healthy, so you let them eat).

Note how ① and ② share the same structure, and even the same verb (食べる) and the same person (子供【こども】) so whether it's "make" or "let", it has to be determined purely by context. Therefore, if you don't add anything to your original sentence, like the kind of food, etc., it can be either case depending on the context.


③父【ちち】が[私に]アイスクリームを食べさせてくれる。

At ③, it can only be "my father lets me eat ice cream", because the termination くれる means that someone else is doing something good, positive for myself, for my own sake. It wouldn't make sense to use くれる if my father is actually "forcing" me to eat vegetables.

Also note that くれる always means that someone does a favor to oneself (or your own group), not to others. That's why you can not say 彼【かれ】に子供がアイスクリームを食べさせてくれる。(incorrect).


④[私が]子供【こども】にアイスクリームを食べさせてあげる。

At ④, it can only be "I let the children eat an ice cream", because あげる means that me (or someone in my group) is doing a favour or something good for someone else's sake. Since it's a favor, it's "let" and it can not be "make".

The difference with ③ is that in this case, it's me who does the favor to another person.


⑤[私が]子供【こども】に食べさせ。 "I made/let the child eat."

⑥父【ちち】が[私に]アイスクリームを食べさせてくれ。 "My father let (past) me eat an ice cream."

⑦[私が]子供【こども】にアイスクリームを食べさせてあげ。 "I let (past) the child eat an ice cream."

Regarding the dicotomy make/let,

  • ⑤ is the same case than ① or ②
  • ⑥ is the same than ③
  • ⑦ is the same case than ④

but whereas ①, ②, ③ and ④ are in present/future tense, ⑥, ⑦, and ⑧ describe past actions.


My suggestion is that you try to tackle the くれる/あげる dicotomy first without causatives, and once you've mastered them, and only after that, then try to see how the causative works with each of those terminations. Divide & conquer.


BONUS: させてもらう

Besides くれる and あげる, there's still another option to convey that someone does something positive, for the sake of someone else: もらう. Therefore, using させてもらう, will always be a "let" case of the causative form as well. The difference between くれる/あげる and もらう is that the latter does not restrict the doer and the receiver of the favor, they can be myself (or someone in my group) or they can be someone else. It's more flexible:

  • ③(B) [私が]父【ちち】にアイスクリームを食べさせてもらう。"My father lets me eat ice cream."

  • ④(B) 私に子供【こども】がアイスクリームを食べさせてもらう。"I let the child eat an ice cream."

Note that the actors in ③(B) and ④(B) are the same than in ③ and ④ respectively. When using もらう, the doer of the favor is marked with に, and the recipient of the favour is marked with が, so the particles に and が are swapped between the sentences ④ and ④(B).

  • ⑨ お父【とう】さんに息子【むすこ】がアイスクリームを食べさせてもらう。"The father lets the son eat an ice cream."

As for ⑨, there is no intervention from you (or someone of your group), so くれる/あげる are not valid options here. It could be seen as the same case than ②, where the addition of もらう desambiguates the causative and gives a clue that it's a "let" causative. Again, note that the particles between ② and ⑨ would be swapped.

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  • Personally, I think it would be nice to add an example with させてもらう, and explain how ti could change the nuance of the sentence. I am upvoting it anyways! – Felipe Oliveira Aug 3 at 4:35
  • @Felipe Oliveira I added some examples using させてもらう and explanations on how to construct them. However, I'm not sure about the differences in nuance (meaning), so If you want, feel free to edit my post (or make a new answer) and add them! – jarmanso7 Aug 3 at 5:53
  • @jarmanso7 thanks for the lengthy explanation. When my son was younger, I had to force him to eat ice cream to cool his troat after surgery, which he didn't want to do it himself. In this case, how would you make this explicit in Japanese (as change to ②)? – Harro K Aug 4 at 8:44
  • @Harro K I guess it still would be exactly like in ②, but with a different meaning due to the context. However, this example feels very unrealistic to me – jarmanso7 Aug 4 at 10:06
  • Let my stress my point again. Sometimes there is no clue in the sentence itself as for which case "make" or "let" it is, so you need to rely solely on the context to figure it out. No matter how many complicated and convoluted examples you can think of, the sentence wouldn't change, only the context. So ultimately it's up to the listener to figure it out from the context, the situation, or whatever. – jarmanso7 Aug 4 at 10:10
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In the Japanese language, there isn't the difference between the "make" and "let" usage of causative verbs. We only judge it depending on the context.

For, example, 私は、無理やり子供に野菜をたべさせた is translated as "I made my child eat vegetables (forcibly).", 私は、自由に子供にお菓子を食べさせた is translated as "I let my child eat sweets (freely)."

させてくれる and させてあげる usually means "let" such as 彼は、いつも私に彼の車を運転させてくれる(He always let me drive his car).", 私は、いつも彼に私の車を運転させてあげる(I always let him drive my car)."

食べさせる has also the meaning of "feed", so 食べさせてくれる(あげる) means "feed" rather than "let someone eat". For example, 母は、病弱な祖母に、毎日食事を食べさせてあげる is translated as "My mother feeds my sickly grandmother meals every day."

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  • When you say "to feed", what does it mean? Does it mean that my mother cooks and serves a meal for my grandmother only, or does it mean that my mother actually grabs the food with a spoon or fork and puts it into my grandmother's mouth? – jarmanso7 Aug 3 at 15:27
  • @jarmanso7 it means the latter. – Yuuichi Tam Aug 3 at 16:15
  • Okay, I got your point. I didn't know that させてくれる could be used in such a way. So you actually get someone to eat (physically), but since you are doing them a favor, it is くれる/あげる. Interesting. However, do you think that something like 自由にお菓子を食べさせてあげる (or くれる) can't be said at all? Thanks. – jarmanso7 Aug 3 at 16:24
  • @jarmanso7 Because 食べさせる have the meaning of not only "let(make) someone eat" but also "feed", so such a way is used. I rarely hear 自由にお菓子を食べさせてあげる but it may make sense. If 自由に is added, 食べさせる means clearly "let someone eat". – Yuuichi Tam Aug 3 at 16:51

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