The following sentence is from a native speaker who is giving information about a device for people with hearing loss. She showed the parts of the device and said:

Sometimes I've had people get the microphone and the headphones confused.

The structure looks like a causative structure "have somebody do something",. But it is obvious that the meaning is not causative. She simply means; "Sometimes people get the microphone and headphones confused."

So, this seemingly "causative structure" does not have a causative meaning, and it is commonly used. And I want to find out what kind of a difference, if any, this structure would make on the meaning, if it was said in a plain sentence. In other words, why does she say "I have had people get the microphone and the headphones confused" instead of simply saying "Sometimes people get the microphone and headphones confused."

  • 1
    Maybe it's an American vs British thing. British English speakers often say 'I have had people do something' meaning 'I have experienced people doing that thing'. E.g. I have had people frown at me in shops if I try to pay using small coins'. Aug 12, 2022 at 20:03
  • It sounds common enough in US English too: e.g. I had a pigeon poop on me the other day.
    – stangdon
    Aug 12, 2022 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


The structure [ "have" + object + base verb ] has more than one function. The most common one is causitive, but this is a different function.

The function here is to indicate experiences that people have had, typically ones directed towards themselves. A nearly equivalent rephrasing might be:

I've had the experience of people getting the microphone and headphones confused.

Even this rewording loses the nuance that the experience was directed towards the subject. Because of this nuanced meaning, when I hear the original sentence, I picture someone in tech support telling the story of someone calling them for help because, say, they were trying to speak into their headphones and it didn't work. So it fits perfectly with someone describing a new tech device.

If you simply say, "Sometimes people get the microphone and headphones confused", it loses the important meaning that you have had that experience, and further the nuance that it happened to you.


The use of "have" here isn't causative. Consider the following sentences:

I have ten patients.

I have my patients exercise.

The first indicates a sense of ownership, while the second indicates a directive to do something.

Your example sentence "Sometimes I've had people get the microphone and the headphones confused," does not indicate that the speaker has instructed or ordered people to confuse the two, as in the second sense of "have" above. Rather, it indicates a sense of ownership - some of the people who "belong" to the speaker as patients/clients have confused the two. The use of "I have had people do X" indicates a personal experience, as opposed to "some people do X", which the speaker may never have observed firsthand.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .