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A causative construction is used, for instance, when we have / make / ... someone do something for us. For example,

"I had the painter paint my house".

We could render this passively too:

"I had my house painted",

meaning that I arranged for a painter to come and paint my house. Or another example:

"I had my car fixed",

meaning that I did not fix my own car rather I asked someone to fix it for me.

But sometimes, we use the exact same construction, that is, "have/get + object + past participle", to denote that we have performed something:

"I got my homework done" or

"I need to get this done by tomorrow".

I am confused! How can one determine when the construction is causative and when it is not?

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  • By common sense. By context, speaker's intention, functionality, discourse, etc. Just because two possible utterances look the same doesn't mean they'll be put to the same use . Jul 28, 2017 at 1:03

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Causative is a semantic label, referring to the meaning of a construction. So the way to tell whether a construction is causative is to know in advance what it means! If you're an English learner, that's probably not what you want to hear.

The examples you cite have actually been of interest to linguists because they illustrate how passive and causative meanings are sometimes expressed with the same syntax. I'll paste below relevant commentary from Lyons' 1967 paper A note on possessive, existential, and locative sentences.

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  • Yeah, in that sentence you can't tell the difference between the two constructions. And clues from context are how we decide in that case. Often wrongly, as it happens. Jul 28, 2017 at 2:47

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