If you tell a person to have someone do something, is that considered a command?

Our boss sent an email which told us to "have your peer partner send you her plans". Should that be considered a directive?

Our union is actually filing a grievance over this language.

Our contract states that we cannot be forced to give our lesson plans to anyone. Our principal, as part of a professional development activity wrote "have your peer partner send you her plans," as opposed to "send your peer partner your plans". Since I have no means of "having" (forcing) her do this (I am not her boss), the implication to me is is that we should "request" this of our peer partners.

I think she deliberately chose "have" over "request" (in fact the union asked her to amend the email to state this was voluntary, and she refused) to confuse people into thinking she was telling them to send their plans to their partner since indeed, "have" connotes a command, but was covering herself by being able to say that she never told anybody to send their plans to the peer partner- she told us to have them send theirs to us. Since we can't "make" our peer partners do this, in this case "have" means "ask".

It seems to me that this was a way of tricking people into thinking it was a directive, but the language was chosen carefully — so if necessary, it would prove it wasn't. I think the union will lose the grievance on these grounds, unless there are provisions in the contract against deliberately using language to mislead overworked teachers who don't have time to read emails through the lens of a lawyer.

  • 1
    It's actually two directives: the boss directs OP to direct someone else to do something. May 25, 2013 at 17:48
  • True; the main verb is imperative, and its complement is a causative. May 25, 2013 at 18:26

2 Answers 2


Have is mostly used in English as an auxiliary verb for the perfect construction, and it's normally contracted and frequently elided completely in speech. There is also a common (though often only metaphoric) lexical sense of 'possess' for the verb have, but its auxiliary and idiomatic uses are far more frequent.

The uncontracted verb have participates in a great many idiomatic (and often unsettled) syntactic constructions that involve other verbs, occasionally with unusual pronunciations.
For example,

  • I had my tires slashed last night. = My tires were slashed last night (by SomeOne).
    The have + PastParticiple Adversative construction: Subject = nonvolitional Patient
  • I had my tires rotated yesterday. = I caused SomeOne to rotate my tires yesterday.
    The have + PastParticiple Causative construction: Subject = volitional Agent
  • You have to do it this way. = You must do it this way.
    The periphrastic Modal have to (always pronounced with /f/)

The one you ask about is

  • I had SomeOne rotate my tires yesterday. = I caused SomeOne to rotate my tires yesterday.
    The have + Infinitive Causative: the Active form of the have + PastParticiple Causative.

The Active Infinitive Causative is used when the identity of the infinitive subject (SomeOne) is important information, and the PastParticiple Causative construction is used when it's not.

These Causative constructions mean essentially the same as get + Infinitive, but are more polite -- i.e, farther from a bald on-record imperative. In just the same way, get + Infinitive is more polite than make + Infinitive, which is more polite than force + Infinitive. All of them refer to causing somebody else to do something, by whatever means.

And, in this case, to answer the presenting question, what the boss said

  • Have our peer partner send us his plans

is a bald on-record imperative.

So, Yes.
You had better contact your peer partner and cause him to send you his plans, because that's what your boss told you to do.

  • 1
    If I were complainant's attorney I would immediately engage you as an expert witness. May 26, 2013 at 16:44
  • (Shhhh......) I only do expert, not witness. Roger Shuy is the man for the job; he wrote the book on forensic linguistics. (He invented the field, in fact) May 26, 2013 at 17:32
  • Furthermore, as the pronoun choice etc. shows, this is not the same question as the one I answered. I took it at face value. May 26, 2013 at 17:34

When you want to tell someone to do something for you, you can have them do that thing for you. For example, if I can't type my own emails (because I have injured my hand, for example), I can ask my colleague to do it for me. In other words I can have my colleague type my emails. In addition, suppose my boss knows I can't type, so he/she can say something like:

"Have your colleague type your emails since you can't do it yourself."

My boss is giving me an order with the above sentence. I must somehow arrange for my emails to be typed by my colleague.

There is an alternative to this construct with the verb get, i.e. "Get your colleague to type your emails since you can't do it yourself."

In the second example it is implied that I should talk to my colleague and perhaps persuade him/her to do it. The result is the same in both sentences: I am given an order to ask someone else to type my emails.

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