Make someone do, be made to do

Make someone do something

Students of English at A2 level will start to be familiar with the structure

tell + someone + to do something
She told the kids to brush their teeth.

and also

ask + someone + to do something.
I asked him to lend me some cash.

Students also learn when using this structure that they shouldn’t forget to and that they should remember to use the infinitive, not the –ing form. (Most still forget, though!)

The two big exceptions to the rule are make and let. These, when used in this causative sense, are followed by the someone + bare infinitive (the infinitive without to):

make + someone + do something
The policeman made us wait.

let + someone + do something
Let me show you my new bike.
We let him speak for as long as he wanted.

OK so far – not rocket science. Occasionally we teachers hear ‘My mum made me to wash the dishes’ or ‘She wouldn’t let me to go out’ (it should be ‘made me wash’ and ‘let me go’), but in general students get it with time. (Quick note: Hearing ‘Please let me introduce myself’ so often, which many students think of as a phrase, helps fix the grammatical structure used after let in learners’ heads.)

When it gets tricky with make

Here is what to watch out for: when we switch to a passive structure with make, we NEED to use to + infinitive.

His mum made him clean his football boots. [active, without to]
He was made to clean his football boots. [passive, with to]

The officers made the soliders march up the hill twice. [active, without to]
The soldiers were made to march up the hill twice. [passive, with to]

There are other causative structures with make, including make + yourself + adjective. Do I make myself clear? I’ll look at those in a future post.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 25 years. ⎜ Contact Stuart for one-to-one video lessons.