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One straightforward meaning of 시키다 is to 'order' something:

나는 냉커피를 시켰다 – I ordered an iced coffee

Outside of that, it seems that it can often mean 'make' or 'cause' something to happen:

그 뉴스는 사람들을 크게 흥분시키고 있다 – The news caused great excitement among the people

Or to 'allow':

그것은 일반인에게 구경시키지 않는다 – they don’t let the public see it

But 'allow' and 'cause' have quite different meanings in English. So how can I tell whether

교실에서 말 시키지 마

Means "don't make people talk in the classroom" or "don't allow talking in the classroom" ?

Likewise,

싸움을 시키다

I've heard translated as "to cause a fight", but could it equally be "to allow a fight"?

Is there a clear grammatical difference between the usages, or do you just have to tell from the context?

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I would say in general,시키다 is just a more flexible form of "to cause" (if you're trying to speak as generally as possible and use minimal English definition). For example, using your above sentences: Don't cause the children speak in the classroom. I caused an ice coffee. (sounds awkward but logically makes sense. Same thing with ->) They don't cause the public to see it. If you think about it, it kind of makes sense.

But for the most part, you just need to learn the context of the word through just daily language. There's really no grammar to it.

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시키다(1)

[동사Verb]

1.어떤 일이나 행동을 하게 하다. To have someone do an action.

2.음식 따위를 만들어 오거나 가지고 오도록 주문하다. To order someone to cook or bring a food.

시키다(2)

‘사동’의 뜻을 더하고 동사를 만드는 접미사. Suffix that adds meaning of letting someone do something, and makes the word into verb.

Source

So usually, 시키다 is used for "cause something" or "buy somehting". It'd be better to understand this word from context rather than grammatical use, since the form of how 시키다 is used is not so different even if it is used for different meaning. In this sentence:

그녀(a)는 그에게 커피를 시키도록(A) 시켰다(B). She had(B) him to order(A) coffee.

So 시키다(A) means "to buy" since HE has to BUY coffee, which SHE had "ORDERED"-시키다(B). Not so good example, but this may help.

--edit-- Precisely, what Rathony mentioned is actually correct. But in real-life use, the boudary of 사동 and 허용 is not so clear, since both are talking about someone ELSE's behavior. So, what I wanted to emphasize in that example was that 'meaning should be determined inside context'.

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  • Welcome to KSE. I think your translation of "음식 따위를 만을어 오거나 가지고 오도록 주문하다" is somewhat different from its meaning and I would not say "letting someone do something" for '사동'. If you let someone do something, it is '허용', not '사동'. Please edit your answer if you agree with my comment. – user7 Aug 12 '16 at 14:47

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