English grammar help: ‘to have something done’

Have you ever cut your own hair? I have. I have a shaved head so it’s easy for me to cut my own hair. I don’t need someone to cut it for me.

What about other people though? I often hear students make the mistake “I cut my hair last week” when actually someone cut it for them.

Saying, “a hairdresser cut my hair last week” would be more correct, but it still sounds a bit unusual. It’s obvious that a hairdresser did it, though. It’s not like you’d ask a firefighter or an engineer to cut your hair for you, would you?

When it’s obvious or not important who did something and the action or finished product is more important, we often use the passive and leave out the person who performed the action.

For example: “My hair was cut last week (by a hairdresser).”

This sounds too formal to use in an everyday conversation, though. We have a special way of talking about times when we get someone else (usually a professional) to do something for us. We say ‘to have something done’.

“I had my hair cut last week.”

My hair was cut by another person, probably a hairdresser. Let’s look at another example to make it clearer.

“I painted my house last week” (I did it myself)

“I had my house painted last week” (someone did it for me)

When was the last time you had something done? Do you prefer to do jobs in your house or have them done by someone else?

image: Jeffrey Turner