1. The opposition had eggs thrown at the minister

In this website, in an answer I found that the above sentence means - The opposition made some paid protestors or someone to throw eggs at the minister.

  1. The minister had eggs thrown at him.

In the same answer, he said, this sentence means— The minister underwent the experience of eggs being thrown at him (But not “The minister didn't incite somebody else to throw eggs at him” like the first sentence)

Although both first and second sentences have same construction why do them mean different thing, one is causitive and other is experiental?

  • Explained here Jul 6 '20 at 10:06
  • They're not the same construction. In 1. "had" is a causative verb (the opposition caused eggs to be thrown at the minister), but in 2. "had" simply indicates that he suffered the act of eggs being thrown him.
    – BillJ
    Jul 6 '20 at 10:08
  • How to find if the “had” is used in causitive sense or simply indicates the experience? @BillJ Jul 6 '20 at 10:17
  • 1
    One difference is that in causatives, the 'recipient' and the 'doer' are not the same person, while in the 'suffer/experience' meaning they are the same person.
    – BillJ
    Jul 6 '20 at 10:31
  • The link I provided tells you that the 'experience' usage is when someone is affected by an action which they did not cause. Jul 6 '20 at 12:44

Yes, they are the same construction if by that you mean using the same words in the same order. But of course some words have multiple meanings. "Have" can be used with several substantive meanings or, as an auxiliary verb, with a purely syntactic meaning.

The opposition had eggs thrown at the minister

is clearly causative: the experience was suffered by the minister rather than the opposition. So the meaning is that the opposition caused one or more third parties to throw eggs.

The minister had eggs thrown at him

has a very slight ambiguity. The words "at him" clearly show that the experiential meaning applies, but could the meaning include BOTH experiential or causative senses? The form of the words at least seems to allow for a DUAL meaning. It is conceivable that the minister secretly told a few of his supporters to throw eggs at him to garner attention or sympathy, but that possibility, in the absence of any other context, is highly implausible. Moreover, if that was the intended meaning, it was ill expressed. It should have been stated as

The minister had eggs thrown at himself

Here the additional causative sense is made clear by using the reflexive pronoun.

When plausibility suggests a highly likely meaning and the unlikely meaning could and probably would have been expressed in a different way, we interpret potentially ambiguous statements as the likely meaning. Humam beings are very good at such linguistic judgments because so many statements offer the potential for unintended meanings.

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