Today I heard someone (a non-native speaker) from Australia use the following structure:

"I will put him to reading in English for 20 minutes before supper."

He wanted to mean "He will get his son to read in English, because he wants him to improve his English.", but he formed a sentence using "put". I looked it up, yes, there is such a structure "to put someone to something", which has a causative meaning.

I don't see it used often, but I still wonder, is it simply another way of saying "make someone do something"?

2 Answers 2



Just as English doesn't have a future tense (it has various modal and auxiliary verbs that can be used to indicate future time) It doesn't have a causative verb form. Instead there are various verbs that can be combined catenatively to form causative or volitional senses "I make him play", or "I let him play".

The verb "put" has the sense of "bring to a certain state", and that has a causative sense. You can then say, for example "I put him to work..."

So just as the future can be expressed with "will" or "going to", there are several verbs that can express some sort of causative sense, perhaps with nuanced differences in meaning.

I made him work. I forced him to work. I put him to work. I got him to work. I had him work. I let him work... and many more


It's interesting how many things asked about on ELL involve significant change over time. I suppose learners easily get confused when they encounter highly-regarded (older) literary texts that conflict with current usages.

This use of put to create a "causative" verb construction form only really gained traction in the US a century ago. Before that, it was usually set...

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But here's the British English chart, showing that we only fell into line with AmE in the last couple of decades...

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As an older Brit, I naturally incline towards set rather than put. But so far as I'm aware, these two verbs are always interchangeable when used in this sense.

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