One day Brigitte walked into the office looking even more fetching than usual. T’as coupé les cheveux? I asked–did you cut your hair? Je me suis fait couper les cheveux, she corrected me–I had my hair cut. In English, you could say either (as well as some other stuff, like I got my hair cut or I got a haircut or (for a woman, but not a man) I had my hair done, although that’s a bit different, as it could involve things like curling without actually cutting), but in French, if it’s a “caused action,” you have to use the faire construction.
- The thing that is being acted on is being expressed, but not doing the action.
- The thing that is doing the action is being expressed, but not the thing that is being acted on.
- The thing that is doing the action and the thing that is being acted on are both expressed.
- The one exceptional expression faire voir, “to let someone see something” or to “show someone something.”
Let’s work through these. They all have one thing in common: the verb faire will be followed by an infinitive. So: Je me suis fait couper les cheveux. If you’re doing Laura Lawless’s first option–only mentioning the thing to which the action will be done–you have this formula: faire + infinite + object. For example:
A l’international, Interflora vous permet de faire livrer des fleurs dans plus de 140 pays grâce à un réseau mondial qui regroupe 45 000 artisans fleuristes.
“Internationally, Interflora lets you have flowers delivered in more than 140 countries, thanks to a world-wide network that brings together 45,000 florist artists.”
Let’s suppose that you’re only going to mention the person (or whatever) you you’re going to cause to do the action. It’s actually the same formula: faire + infinitive + actor. Google gave me this autocomplete:
What if we want to express both the person (or thing) who we’re going to make do the action, and also the thing to which the action will be done? Now the formula gets interesting. (OK: I freely admit that my definition of “interesting” might be a bit different from yours.) Now we have faire + infinitive + object + à/par + actor. What that means: we’ll have faire + infinitive, as always. Then we have the person or thing that is being acted on. Then we have à or par, followed by the actor. Let’s see some examples. I’m going to borrow/steal them from Laura Lawless’s page, because searching for these things is beastly and I prefer not to make up examples myself:
Je fais laver la voiture par/à David.
I’m having David wash the car.
Il fait réparer la machine par/à sa sœur.
He’s having his sister fix the machine.
How about if we have pronouns? Negation? Reflexives? (Advice from a linguist: when you’re learning a new verbal construction, learn the negated, pronominal, and reflexive forms sooner rather than later.)
Here’s a good example of a negation. Moral of this story: the negative goes on the verb avoir.
En deux ans et demi mon travaille est irréprochable mais j’ai eu quelques rares absenses dut à une maladie, que je n’ai pas fait attester par un médicin.
For two and a half years my work has been flawless but I have had some occasional absences due to an illness that I didn’t have a doctor vouch for. Note: absenses should be absences, travaille should be travail, and I think dut should be dû.
Here’s a good example of a pronominal actor, from this web page on how to apologize via text message. Moral of the story: the pronoun goes on faire.
Je ne voulais pas te faire souffrir. S’il te plaît pardonne moi. Je ne sais pas comment te dire que je suis vraiment désolé.
I didn’t want to make you suffer. Please forgive me. I don’t know how to tell you that I’m really sorry.
Here’s a good example of a pronominal acted-on. Moral of the story: it’s a direct object pronoun–in this case, la.
Here’s an example of a situation where you’re going to have something done to or for yourself. Moral of the story: the reflexive particle (in this case, me) goes on faire.
Arrête-moi, je vais me faire tatouer…
Stop me, I’m going to have myself tattooed…
The final faire causatif construction that Laura Lawless tells us about is faire voir: let (me) see. Faites voir! is the formal form, and fais voir! is the informal form. They both mean “let me see!”
Can these constructions be ambiguous? I’ll bet they can. Consider this example from ibo.org, which I found thanks to the marvelous linguee.fr web site:
Puis-je faire envoyer mon relevé de notes à mon adresse personnelle ?Can I have my transcript sent to my personal address?