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I am confused about the following sentence:

I have my hair cut.

Now here I am not sure whether "my hair" is the Direct Object (DO) of the verb "have", or if it is just the subject of the Past Participle Clause "my hair cut". If the latter case is to be true, then the verb "have" has two complements: "I", and a clause, my hair cut.

I have searched The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language and seems that they analyse it as "have" takes a DO followed by a Predicative Complement (PC). Based on their analysis, in my sentence "my hair" is a DO and "cut" is just a PC relealized by a Participle Adjective.

I also consulted Oxford Modern English Grammar, and as per their analysis "have" takes a Past Participle Clause as a complement. So here, based on their analysis, "have" takes a Participle Clause - "my hair cut". In this book it is also said clearly that "my hair" is not a DO.

Now I am confused that two books considers it in two different ways. I tried to add a PC after "cut" to make more sense, like this:

I have my hair cut short.

Here "cut" takes a PC - "short". So "cut" can never be a Participle Adjective, it's a verb. So if my analysis is to be true *"cut" can never be a PC in the original sentence.

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  • Consider I prefer my hair cut short; we saw a man with red hair cut short. I would not classify it as a verb just because there is a complement – J-mster Jun 2 at 5:42
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    It's a catenative construction, where causitive "have" is a catenative verb with the infinitival clause "cut" as its complement. The intervening NP "my hair" is the (raised) syntactic object of "have" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause. – BillJ Jun 2 at 6:40
  • @BillJ but in he had his house painted white, "painted" is still a verb i guess. – Man_From_India Jun 2 at 6:53
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    Yes, "painted" is a verb and "white" is objective predicative complement. – BillJ Jun 2 at 7:12
  • @BillJ but I am confused between the two different analysis of this one by two books. – Man_From_India Jun 2 at 7:32
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First of all, the sentence

  • I have my hair cut.

is an example of a Construction. That is, there is a special model for this clause, with its own unique sets of meanings, uses, restrictions and affordances. So one shouldn't expect it to be a normal short sentence.

And it isn't. In a sentence with only 5 words, there are 2 verbs and two noun phrases, so the question of the function of my hair is a normal one.

There are two "have + Noun Phrase + Past Participle" constructions in English.
One is adversative, the other, like the example sentence, is causative.

  1. I had my tires slashed.
  2. I had my tires fixed.

(1) is a non-volitional adversative; it means that something bad happened to me: someone indefinite slashed my tires. I did not arrange for that, or cause it.

(2) is a volitional causative; it means that something has happened because I arranged for it to happen. Presumably this was something beneficial, because I arranged for it; but that's just an inference in (2), not a given like the bad outcome of (1).

There are other causative constructions with have, using different verb forms besides Past Participle:

  • I had them fix the clutch while the engine was out. (fix is an Infinitive)
  • I had them rolling in the aisles. (rolling is a Present Participle)

In all of these constructions, the noun phrase in the middle is the subject of the following verb, whatever it is, and whatever form it's in. If that verb is a past participle, it's passive; so my hair is the subject of (be) cut, which is the right meaning.

In the other examples, my tires is the subject of both passives (be) slashed and (be) fixed, and them is the subject of fix the clutch and (be) rolling in the aisles, all of which are the right meanings too.

So if it's the subject of the second verb, why is it where the object ought to be? The answer is Subject Raising, a syntactic rule that applies to subjects of infinitive complements of certain verbs. Raised subjects may become direct objects of the clauses they follow, under certain conditions, even though they didn't start out that way.

For instance, in

  • She expects Bill to select the committee.

Bill is the subject of the infinitive to select. If we passivize the infinitive clause, producing

  • She expects the committee to be selected by Bill.

the committee is now the subject. Either one may be considered the direct object of expects, as shown by the fact that they can undergo Passive, too:

  • He is expected (by her) to select the committee.
  • The committee is expected (by her) to be selected by Bill.

These examples are not special constructions, though; they're more or less normal. In a construction the ordinary contexts and rules don't always apply, and when they do, they often have odd restrictions; these are syntactic idioms, like let alone, and idioms are odd.

So, essentially you can consider my hair a derived direct object, just like you can consider my hair a derived subject of passive was cut, even though it is the object of active cut.

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    In simple terms, it's a catenative construction, where causitive "have" is a catenative verb with the past-participial clause "cut" as its catenative complement. The intervening NP "my hair" is the (raised) syntactic object of "have" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause. – BillJ Jun 2 at 16:34
  • Thanks John. But you see one book treats that my hair is never a direct object but the subject of the following non finite clause (it proves it by means of passive construction, which I don't think is right). And the other book says it is the direct object of the matrix clause and the following clause is a complement. Can you please in your answer include some syntactical analysis, of course one that is understandable to a non linguist? :-) – Man_From_India Jun 2 at 23:27
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    Well, there are different theories, and each has its own ideas about how phenomena should be labelled and categorized. You'll have noticed that @BillJ prefers a different terminology, for instance. I use terms and analyses like those in McCawley 1998. But why do you want to know whether it's a direct object? There isn't any ISO standard; it's just a helpful term. Passive is one test (if used correctly. See the Subject Raising link above for tests, and there are others.) – jlawler Jun 3 at 0:40
  • Hi John I am yet to check the link. Will do it once I am back home. But it is impossible to covert my sentence into passive. – Man_From_India Jun 3 at 3:19
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    Complex sentences have more than one clause. Passive applies to clauses, not sentences. – jlawler Jun 3 at 15:30
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I have my hair [cut].

This is a catenative construction, where causative "have" is a catenative verb with the past-participial clause "cut" functioning as its catenative complement.

The intervening NP "my hair" is the (raised) syntactic object of "have" and the understood (semantic) subject of the subordinate clause.

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It's not that complicated. This is a classic example of a Causative Passive.

Causative Active: I have our barber cut my hair.

Causative Passive: I have my hair cut (by our barber).

Another example:

Causative Active : The man had the mechanic fix his car.

Causative Passive: The man had his car fixed (by the mechanic).

Just like normal passive sentences, we omit the last part.

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Rukshan is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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  • Which linguists analyses this as a "Causative Passive"? What sources/references do you have? Don't all English passives need to use a form of the verb 'to be'? – curiousdannii 19 hours ago
  • @curiousdannii youtube.com/watch?v=DxnmhmwWb7E this is just one of many sources. Please google the term and you'll find hundreds of sources online. – Rukshan 52 mins ago
  • Are they linguists? Just because someone makes a video about English doesn't mean they understand linguistics or can accurately identify passive phrases. – curiousdannii 20 mins ago

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