This is from a BBC video, about someone who was misdiagnosed and sent to a psychiatric ward, but it was later understood that her illness was something different. So, in the video, an expert talks about such problems:

Having your physical symptoms mistaken for a mental illness, is not uncommon.

The structure of the sentence draws my attention. It seems like a causative as in "Having your car repaired is very expensive.", but I doubt if this meaning sits well with the sentence in question, because you don't hire anyone to misdiagnose your symptoms. It just happens.

So, I wonder, is this sentence "Having your symptoms mistaken is ...." simply a causative structure?

Or, although it seems to have the structure of causative, does it have a different meaning?

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    'Have' does not have to mean 'hire'. Having my dog killed was very distressing. I didn't pay anyone to drive over Bozo. Jan 6, 2023 at 8:49
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    I would say that mistaken is indeed a verb here. "The experience of doctors mistaking your physical symptoms for a mental illness is not uncommon." Jan 6, 2023 at 9:49
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    'Have something done' can mean 'cause someone to do it to or for you', or it can mean 'experience it'. Jan 6, 2023 at 12:24
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    Note that the comma after mental illness is a mistake / is mistaken (it's not "optional" - including it is an actual error). Jan 6, 2023 at 12:48
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    causative requires: have someone or something do something:. This is not that.
    – Lambie
    Jan 6, 2023 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


This is not the causative have, it's the experiential have. The experiential have is like "I always have a good time at Mickey's house", or "I had my wallet stolen yesterday" - it means I experience a good time at Mickey's house, or experienced my wallet being stolen.

Similarly, in this sentence, "having your physical symptoms mistaken for a mental illness" means experiencing your physical symptoms being mistaken for a mental illness.

Yes, the two constructions can look very similar. Usually you can tell them apart by context. In this case, it would be very strange for someone to arrange for their own symptoms to be misdiagnosed!

  • Yes, that is exactly what I was trying to emphasize. They have the same structure and the context would be the key.
    – Yunus
    Jan 6, 2023 at 19:34

A causative sentence with have is this:

  • I had my hair cut [by the hairdresser].

  • John had his car repaired [by the mechanic].

The requirement is this: to have someone or something do something. It is a passive construction.

To have physical symptoms mistaken for a mental illness [by a doctor]. is also that.

causatives with get and have

to have one thing mistaken for another is to experience on thing taken for another. One meaning of have is to experience: definition of have

  • At school we are taught that these sentences are also causative: "I had my wallet stolen.", "He had his hair cut." As you see, the structure is different from yours and it still has the meaning of a causative sentence. Also, see this grammar web site: perfect-english-grammar.com/causatives-have-get.html
    – Yunus
    Jan 6, 2023 at 19:28
  • @yunus No, it isn't different: to have something done. It's the same thing.
    – Lambie
    Jan 7, 2023 at 17:08
  • if you think they are not different, then why do you say in your post "The requirement is this: to have someone or something do something." As you see "have something done" (WITHOUT SOMEBODY) is enough for it to be considered causative. There is no need for a SOMEBODY. "have something done" is enough for it to be a causative structure. And the sentence in question seems to have a causative structure, however the meaning is not a causative and it means TO EXPERIENCE".
    – Yunus
    Jan 7, 2023 at 17:33
  • @yunus I should say in my answer that it is passive.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8, 2023 at 1:29

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