The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p 1236) marks ungrammatical the construction of "have something/someone + be + past participle":

*He had his son be examined by a specialist.

CGEL seems to say that the "be" needs to go to make it grammatical:

He had his son examined by a specialist.

Now, here's an excerpt from a Guardian article titled "Congress seeks to lift gun ban at military outposts despite army's concerns",

USARC, he added, would not be involved in changes to firearm policies and would continue to follow the directive issued by the military. But Lepley echoed Rooney’s view that recruiting stations must remain in high-traffic areas where young men and women could be easily recruited.

“We can’t have recruiting stations be like a fortress, we can’t have them be barricaded,” he said. “It’s not very welcoming. People need to be able to find us and come talk to us.”

The portion that Brian Lepley, a spokesman for the US army recruiting command (USARC), was quoted as saying includes the construction "have ... be". Is the construction well formed?

If so, how do I distinguish the ungrammatical CGEL example from the utterance of the USARC spokesman?

  • 1
    There's a difference in the predicates and therefore the constructions involved. The first have construction requires an active predicate because it's a causative, and doesn't allow to be normally (He had his tires rotated/*to be rotated). That's not possible with the second construction, which has a stative predicate and is therefore not the same usage as the firs; it has its own rules (which allow to be to be retained). Mar 28 '17 at 14:36
  • @JohnLawler I was asking about the bare infinitive be, not to be.
    – JK2
    Mar 29 '17 at 2:12
  • That's an Act be, as in Why not (go) be examined by a specialist? or I had him (go) be examined by a specialist. or I made him (go) be examined by a specialist.. Mar 29 '17 at 2:40
  • @JohnLawler Sorry but I don't get what you mean by "Act be." Do you mean be in your examples denotes an action? Why did you put (go) in your examples? Also, what's "Act be" got to do with inserting to be instead of be in your earlier example (*He had his tires to be rotated)?
    – JK2
    Mar 29 '17 at 3:24
  • I mean that it's a required auxiliary verb for an active nonverbal predicate, and therefore means if anything, 'act in a particular way', as in Be honest, She's just being devious, He's just being a dick. That's why they can occur in imperatives and progressives. That way they can also occur as complements to the small verbs that don't require to before infinitive complements. Mar 29 '17 at 14:24

The word "have" in the two examples has two different meanings.

In your first example, it means "arrange for his son to be"

He arranged for his son to be examined by a specialist.
He had his son examined by a specialist.

In the second example, it means "let."

We can't let recruiting stations be like a fortress
We can’t have recruiting stations be like a fortress

We can't let them be barricaded.
We can't have them be barricaded.

I hope this helps.

  • 1
    I don't understand why we can’t have them be barricaded cannot be interpreted as "we can't arrange for them to be barricaded".
    – JK2
    Mar 29 '17 at 2:15

You distinguish

"*He had his son be examined by a specialist"


"He had his son examined by a specialist"

(the second, corrected, requiring an active predicate (per John Lawler) and the second set,

“We can’t have recruiting stations be like a fortress, we can’t have them be barricaded," by the existence of the word can't, which changes the role of "have" in the sentence(s) and allows a stative predicative: Stations can't be like fortresses; stations can't be barricaded;

we can't have that;

we can't have stations be like fortresses, we can't have them be barricaded.

This is different from saying

"We can't arrange for them to be barricaded,"

which means something else entirely: The inability (for reasons of lack of money or lack of manpower or community opposition) to have them barricaded, not the unacceptability of having them be barricaded, which is the point the speakers were trying to make.

Well, that may not help. Just a try.


Constructions such as 'He had his son examined by a specialist' involve the causing of an action to happen.

Conversely, the context of the construction 'we can’t have them be barricaded' seems to be referring not to an action, but to a state. It means 'we cannot have recruiting stations that are barricaded' It is not referring to the action of having someone put up barricades.

The be-construction here is similar to utterances such as:

  • We cannot have them be unhappy. (i.e., in the state of unhappiness)

  • We cannot have them be disappointed.

The problem here is that past participle forms such as disappointed, embarrassed, barricaded etc. are used both as verbs in passive constructions and as adjectives in simple copulas. For example:

  • I was disappointed.

  • She was embarrassed.

  • The recruiting station was barricaded.

That said, there are numerous examples in Google of the 'have them be' + past participle which do indeed refer to actions not states. A common example is 'have them be killed':

  • You grow attached to character only to have them be killed ... later in the storyline.

  • She slayed her children upon the altar in the Temple rather than have them be killed by Christians or Muslims during the siege of Jerusalem.

In the above sentences, neither 'you' nor 'she' is causing the killing to happen. To omit the 'be' in each case would change the meaning of the sentence. Conversely, in the following, there is a causative action, and the 'be' could be omitted with no change of sense:

  • You have to kill every human (or have them be killed by an enemy).

He got back his parents and was forced to have them be killed again.

You can decide for yourself if this superfluous use of 'be' is grammatical.

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