(1) He had a specialist examine his son.

(2) He had his son examined by a specialist.

About this pair, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 1236) says:

we have equivalence between (1) and (2)

This I think means that we have equivalence in meaning between them.

But as for an apparently similar pair, Paul M. Postal says in his paper "On Raising" (page 320):

Thus, on one reading at least, the following are not semantically equivalent:

(86) a. Tom had Melvin interrogate the witness.

b. Tom had the witness interrogated by Melvin.

I don't see any reason for treating the examples in CGEL and 'On Raising' differently, so why is it that CGEL says the passivation doesn't change the meaning whereas Postal says it does change the meaning "on one reading at least"?


In order to make it clear what Postal means by "on one reading", here's a summary of what Postal says in pages 318-320:

Right before the cited portion, Postal mentions "a dualistic analysis" found with "allow, permit, and order". By the "dualistic analysis" I think he means that these verbs of permission can have two different meanings, depending on whether to consider them to be 'raising verbs' or not.

So, I think Postal's "on one reading" refers to reading (86) as not having a 'raising' construction, because passivation wouldn't change the meaning in a 'raising' construction.

Apparently, Postal thinks that Postal's (86) can be construed as not involving a 'raising' construction, whereas CGEL thinks that CGEL's (1)/(2) can only be construed as involving a 'raising' construction.

Having said that, I think a more specific question is this:

Is there any reason for this different treatment? Or is either Postal or CGEL mistaken?

  • I'm pretty sure he meant that there was one possible sense of (86b) that was not causative, but rather interpretable like Tom had his tires slashed last night. That sense is all but impossible with (a), so they would be different. But there is also the more usual causative sense of (b), and on that interpretation they're identical. OK? Mar 20, 2019 at 3:07
  • @JohnLawler If you read pages 318-320 of Postal, I think you'd agree that Postal meant something other than what you're "pretty sure that he meant". Please see my edit.
    – JK2
    Mar 20, 2019 at 3:45
  • 1
    Unless the alternate reading is "Tom had the witness [that was] interrogated by Melvin", I don't see any difference.
    – AmI
    Mar 20, 2019 at 5:13
  • 1
    @AmI I doubt (86b) could ever mean your alternative reading. I think that the alternative reading intended by Postal might be "Tom got the witness to be interrogated by Melvin".
    – JK2
    Mar 20, 2019 at 5:24
  • 1
    I do not find the first two sentences in the question equivalent. Especially when it comes to a source on grammar, I find it shocking that the distinction between them is neglected. (1) He had a specialist examine his son—as opposed to having somebody else examine him. (2) He had his son examined by a specialist—as opposed to having his daughter examined. Mar 20, 2019 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


I’m a bit loath to offer an answer when there are so many erudite comments, but I’m interested in the topic and can’t comment yet, so here goes.

I think the explanation is semantic - besides the non-causative sense illustrated by Bill had his tires slashed last night, there seem to be two causative senses of had, roughly (1) to exercise authority over someone such that they use their agency in a particular way (2) to bring about some situation through your own agency. I think Post’s first example invites sense (1), while his second invites sense (2), as do both of Huddleston & Pullum’s – so naturally Post judges his sentences to be different, while Huddleston & Pullum judge theirs to be the same.

The scenario Post’s first sentence conjures up for me is that Tom is some sort of lead investigator and has authority over Melvin, which he exercises by getting Melvin – as opposed to someone else on the team – to conduct the interrogation. That’s sense (1).

Huddleston & Pullum’s first sentence is different in that we have no reason to suppose the father has any authority over the specialist. For one thing, that’s not how the world works – while investigators generally have superiors who get to tell them what to do, there isn’t usually a comparable relationship between specialists and the fathers of their patients. For another thing, we are invited to relate the father to the son rather than the specialist, both for the obvious reason and because the reference is to a specialist and not a specific person. All of that points to sense (2).

I think Post’s second sentence is also an example of sense (2). An interrogation is not normally something we undergo voluntarily, so if Tom has power to force the witness into it, it’s a coercive power. At the point where you are coercing someone into something, their agency is no longer in play, which means it can only be sense (2). In any case, I read H&P as saying that had never has sense (1) in the passive construction, and as I say below I think they're right.

On that basis, Post’s two examples are using had in two different senses (of course, all that is necessary to explain his statement is that they can plausibly be read as using it in two different senses).

As for Huddleston & Pullum’s second example, it’s quite plausible that the father would have authority over the son, so either sense could be in play, and maybe it comes down to whether you think that the passive construction is compatible with sense (1) – or maybe it’s enough to point out that H&P don’t. At least, that’s how I read p. 1236, where they say he got his son to be examined by a specialist is not an alternant of he got his son examined by a specialist, and has no equivalent using have. As far as I can see, the first of those sentences expresses the same thing as my sense (1), and what H&P are saying is that there is no passive sentence with have that does the same job. If that’s how they see it, they’re bound to read both of their sentences in sense (2), and judge them to be the same.

For what it’s worth, I think H&P are right – you can come up with active sentences with have and got that are equivalent and express sense (1) – e.g. he had his son tail the specialist / he got his son to tail the specialist - but I’ve drawn a blank as far as passive sentences are concerned. Is it possible that the raising construction requires more arguments than are licensed by this use of have?

  • If a son was examined by a specialist, who do you think normally would have paid the specialist? Maybe his father? I don't know about the father having any authority over the specialist, but he can easily be the one who asked the specialist to examine his son. And I think that's enough to convey sense (1).
    – JK2
    Mar 20, 2019 at 16:08
  • Well if you redefine sense (1) in that way, I think it's better to look at it syntactically. I'm not totally clear whether you're saying both sentences mean he got a specialist to examine his son, or only the first one. I can't read the second one in that sense, and the idea that the whole event constitutes a single argument seems to explain this very neatly - we then end up with the to bring about a situation directly meaning by virtue of the syntax.
    – user339660
    Mar 21, 2019 at 7:56
  • How would you explain the meaning of 'on one reading at least' in Postal's book? I think this wording suggests that Postal's (86a) and (86b) are "semantically equivalent" on another reading. And in all likelihood on this "another reading" CGEL seems to be basing its analysis that (1) and (2) are semantically equivalent.
    – JK2
    Mar 23, 2019 at 2:13
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    @JK2 Well, the two basic readings of Tom had Melvin interrogate the witness are a) [Tom caused Melvin (Melvin interrogates witness)] and b) [Tom caused (Melvin interrogates witness)] - that’s clear from 318. Without delving further into the book it’s not clear to me whether Postal thinks Tom had the witness interrogated by Melvin can be read in sense a), but clearly it can be read in sense b).
    – user339660
    Mar 23, 2019 at 5:40
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    It follows that you can read both sentences in sense b), corresponding to what I called ‘bringing about the situation directly’. If you do read them that way, it doesn’t matter which way round you describe the situation. [Tom caused (Melvin interrogates witness)] means the same thing as [Tom caused (witness interrogated by Melvin)]. Hence on one reading they are equivalent.
    – user339660
    Mar 23, 2019 at 5:40

Assuming that had in neither of the sentences below means "ate for dinner" or "tricked" or "was stuck with as a partner" but "arranged to happen, caused", and assuming that the noun references are not intoned in a way to indicate some confusion on the part of the listener, as in "no, not Marvin, Melvin!"

a. Tom had Melvin interrogate the witness.

b. Tom had the witness interrogated by Melvin.

Tom arranged to have Melvin interrogate the witness.

Tom arranged to have the witness be interrogated by Melvin.

The practical meaning is the same. If you don't think it is the same, please offer your paraphrases.

  • (86) a. 'Tom had Melvin interrogate the witness.' default-paraphrases to '(86) a'. Tom got Melvin to interrogate the witness.' // (86) b. 'Tom had the witness interrogated by Melvin.' paraphrases to (86) b'. 'Tom swung it so that the witness was interrogated by Melvin.' //// There is a change in the point of application of coercion. Aug 27, 2023 at 18:48
  • @EdwinAshworth The nuances you detect between "got" and "swung it so that" are not entailed in these sentences. You're "reading things into" these statements. In both cases "arranged to have" is a neutral reading.
    – TimR
    Aug 27, 2023 at 18:49
  • Tom had the shop repair the car. Tom had the car repaired by the shop.
    – TimR
    Aug 27, 2023 at 18:52
  • Whether the paraphrase is plausible in the real world is not a grammatical issue, is it? Tom had his son visit the Vatican. Tom had the Vatican visited by his son. That Tom has no power over the Vatican is not relevant if Tom is not ordering anyone but simply "setting things in motion". The Vatican got visited in either case.
    – TimR
    Aug 27, 2023 at 19:10
  • 'The practical meaning is the same' is what I'm disagreeing with. Pragmatics is often even more important than grammar. 'Have someone do something' quite strongly implies (though does not mandate) strong persuasion/coercion on the 'someone'. 'Have something done by someone' just shows organisational prowess. Aug 28, 2023 at 10:26

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