Why is the meaning of the following sentences different:

    1. Jenny had her car stolen
    1. Jenny had her cat killed
  • The first sentence means that SOMEBODY stole her car.

  • Why the second one means the opposite, that Jenny killed cat by herself ?

  • How I can say in the same way that somebody other killed MY cat ?

3 Answers 3


This is an interesting question, which needs some thought.

First, your interpretation of the second sentence is wrong: it doesn't mean that she killed the cat herself: she did not, but she arranged for it to be killed.

The problem is that the pattern have something done has two different meanings.

Usually, it means 1) cause or arrange that somebody else do the thing. So I had my door painted means that I did not paint my door, but I asked (or paid) somebody to paint it.

But it can also mean 2) suffer from somebody doing the thing. Most times you can tell which, because this meaning is only used when the thing is something bad for us.

So, since nobody wants their goods to be stolen, Jenny had her car stolen must mean Jenny had the bad thing happen to her that somebody stole her car. Conversely, I had my door painted can only have this meaning if having my door painted is something I would not want: compare I had my door spattered with paint, which probably does carry meaning 12.

Your second sentence, about the cat, could mean either, depending on the circumstances and how Jenny feels about her cat. Without context, I think most people would take it to be 2) - somebody killed her cat, and she's not happy about it. But if we know that Jenny is a cruel person, or if we know that the cat is very ill and she does not want to suffer any more, then it might mean 1) (though most people would use a less stark word than "kill" in this case).

So I had my cat killed could mean that you arranged it, if you are a cruel person like that; but probably means that somebody killed your cat and you are not happy about it. I don't think many people would say this though, possibly because of the potential ambiguity. I think most people would say somebody killed my cat!.

  • Thank you Colin. I also thought so, but because I am not native speaker I had to ask. Also I think I have to mention reason why I had to ask that. First I saw this reddit post which title says "Murder by Family: Thomas Whitaker had his entire family killed in 2003.". At first it was difficult to understand he or somebody killed. And main reason that google translator for my second sentence definitely assumes Jenny is cruel. Feb 9, 2018 at 11:54

You can read further more about this topic.

  • This usage of have is called causative.

  • You cause something to another thing.

The mechanism of this usage goes like:

  • (Have/has/had) something/ someone past participle (P.P).

  • John has Sam beheaded.

John cause Sam to be beheaded, but John didn’t behead Sam personally or himself. Instead, maybe John told another person to behead Sam.










Both sentences can have either one of these meanings: she ordered the act to be committed; or the act was committed by someone without her asking for it or even knowing about it.

The whole difference lies in the context, which determines the implicit understanding of the sentence and choice of meaning.

In the case of the stolen car, a possible but unlikely meaning would be that she made someone steal her car so she could collect insurance money; while in the cat example, she might have had it killed by a veterinary because of an incurable and painful disease, but it could as well have been killed by someone who is irritated by the presence of animals. The context simply is not clear enough to right away determine what is the case.

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