I had a few weeks off recently and during that time I decided to have my hair cut, as my hair was getting ridiculously long and untidy.
When I came back to the school I met some of the students from the class I had been teaching before my holiday. They were all interested in my hair and many of them said to me, “Ben, you cut your hair,” or “Ben, why did you cut your hair?” For the purposes of making conversation and due to the fact that when I was talking to them when I was on the terrace and not in class, I accepted their comments and we had a laugh and a joke about silly hairstyles.
Later on when I reflected on the conversation, I realised that I had heard the grammar mistake the students had made many times before and that, in fact every time I have my hair cut I hear the same error.
The students from my class made a grammatically correct structure but they showed that they don’t have knowledge of a slightly less familiar passive structure in English known as ‘the causative have’.
This structure in the present tense is: Subject + Have + Object + Past Participle
e.g. - I have my hair cut every 6 weeks
We use this structure when we arrange for someone to do something for us. The subject doesn’t do the action but they ask or pay for someone else to do it for them. In other words, the subject causes the action to happen but the subject is not the person who does the action.
1. Ben cut his hair. (Ben had the scissors and did this action to himself, he cut his own hair).
2. Ben had his hair cut. (Ben caused his hair to be cut, either by paying or asking someone else to do it.)
Which do you think is more likely? That I got a pair of scissors and cut my own hair or that I went to the hairdresser’s and paid for a professional hairdresser to cut my hair. I have no skills or expertise in hairdressing so of course I paid someone else to do it for me. In this way, the causative have is a type passive structure and like in passive structures, we use by to show the person who does the action.
e.g. – When I was a child I often had my hair cut by my mother. (My mum cut my hair for me).
This structure is very often used when we pay other people to do things for us and often the person is obvious so it is not necessary to say who does the action.
1. I’m having my car repaired this week. (by a mechanic)
2. I had my teeth checked yesterday. (by a dentist)
3. She has her nails done every fortnight. (by a manicurist)
In spoken English we can use get instead of have
1. I got my homework marked. (by my teacher)
2. They got their house redecorated. (by some decorators)
Next time you pay for someone to do something for you, try and practise this structure and remember the next time you see someone with a different haircut, don’t ask them, “Why did you cut your hair?” ask them “ Why did you have your hair cut?”.
ridiculously long (col.) - so long that it is too much or becoming stupid
terrace (n.) - a platform which extends outside from a house or flat
a laugh and a joke ( binomial exp.) - to have some fun by making funny comments (informal)
be more likely (comp. adj.) - to be more probable
a pair of scissors (n.phr.) - an object that is used for cutting things such as hair or paper
expertise (n.) - special skill or knowledge in a particular subject
obvious (adj.) - easy to notice or understand