When the verb is followed by two objects, we learn that we can order them in two ways.
- S V O1 O2
- S V O2 to/for O1.
- Tom gives Jerry a present.
- Tom gives a present to Jerry.
At school, we are also taught that there are almost no difference between the two examples above and therefore, they are interchangeable.
But when the ‘form’ is different, there should be a reason behind it, right?
Think about it. What is the point in having two different structures if they mean the same?
So what is the difference?
There are two main differences.
First is that the first object gets more attention than the object that comes second.
Let’s take the example above. In the first sentence “Tom gives Jerry a present,” Jerry gets more spotlight than ‘a present.’
Whereas in the second sentence, ‘a present’ gets a slightly more attention than Jerry.
I believe this effect is created by the structural difference of the sentences, which is the second difference that I want to talk about.
The sentences can be translated as below.
- Tom gives Jerry a present. = Tom causes Jerry to have a present. (S gives Y Z. = S causes Y to have Z.)
- Tom gives a present to Jerry. = Tom causes a present to go to Jerry. (S gives Z to Y. = S causes Z to go to Y.)
In summary, the difference is in whether the sentence means ‘cause Z to go to Y’ or ‘cause Y to own Z.’
Let’s look at another example.
- George gave me a beer.
- George gave a beer to me.
The first version translates to “George caused me to have the beer” (to have). Meaning that he passed me the beer and the beer became mine.
The second version translates to “George caused the beer to go to me.” (to go to) Therefore, the beer moved its place to me but we don’t know if the beer became mine.
One extra point. ’Give’ doesn’t always mean both. Depending on what you are giving, there are thing that you cannot physically cause to travel to the receiver.
For example, you can say “My son gives me a headache,” but it is strange to say “My son gives a headache to me.”
In this case, “gives someone a headache” means to “cause someone to have a headache,” and not “cause a headache to go to someone.”
Your son doesn’t take a headache out of his head and transfer it to your head.
In this article, I used only the verb ‘give’ as the example, but the same thing applies to other verbs that take two objects.
- He sent me a letter./ He sent a letter to me.
- My dad bought me a dress. /My dad bought a dress for me.
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