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Verbs with Indirect Objects
Normal transitive verbs followed by noun phrase direct objects create
relatively few problems. Some transitive verbs, however, can take more
than one noun phrase complement, creating some possible confusion about
which is the direct object. Some of the time these verbs are innocent,
normal transitives; when we catch them in the act of taking more than one
complement in a predicate, we can call them bigamous transitives.
Grammarians, however, insist on more specific and less memorable terms."
We gave George a puppy this year, and he called it Al
Ditransitive Verbs. The verb give is the most common
example of a relatively small set of transitive verbs which can
take two objects, two noun phrase complements. They can be called
ditransitive verbs. In sentence (1) below, it is just a normal
transitive verb, taking a direct object. Sentence (2) specifies who the
recipient or beneficiary of the gift is, putting it in a
prepositional phrase head by "to" or "for." In sentence (3), however, the
recipient is placed after the verb and in front of the direct object. In
such cases, the first NP (like "George" here) is called the indirect
(1) We gave a puppy.
(2) We gave a puppy to George.
(3) We gave George a puppy.
Verbs of this sort are sometimes called dative verbs because
some languages have special dative case-endings to identify recipient
nouns instead of using a preposition as in sentence (2) or word order as
in sentence (3). Some other verbs which can be ditransitive (or dative)
are: buy, offer,
sell. In the even-numbered sentences below, these verbs
are regular old transitive verbs; in the odd-numbered sentences, they are
ditransitive verbs, with the verb followed by an indirect object. The
direct object of each sentence is underlined so that you can see how it
moves after the indirect object.
(4) We bought a ticket.
(5) We bought our dog a ticket.
(6) George offered twenty bucks
(7) George offered Greta twenty bucks.
(8) Amber sold a horse.
(9) Amber sold my brother a horse.
Complex Transitive Verbs. Ditransitive verbs need to be
distinguished from another set of verbs which take two complements, the
complex transitive verbs like
In such cases, the first noun phrase is the direct object--that
is, George is the object of her consideration. The second
noun phrase, a friend, actually says something about
George. We can show this by inserting a "to be" in
between the direct object and the second noun phrase or by substituting an
adjective for it:
(10) She considered George a friend.
In such structures, the second noun phrase or the adjective is called an
object complement or object predicative.
(11) She considered George to be a friend.
(12) She considered George friendly.
Some other verbs which can be complex transitive are call, name,
think. In the sentences below, they are used first as regular
transitive or intransitive verbs and then as complex transitives:
(a) George called Martha.
(b) George called Martha sexy.
(a) Gwen named the puppy.
(B)Gwen named the puppy Misty.
(a) Dagbert thought hard.
(b) Dagbert thought the test a hard one.
Which One is It?. Knowing that certain
verbs are often ditransitive or complex transitive can help one
distinguish between the two structures. Unfortunately, a verb like
make can be either. In sentence (16) below, it is ditransitive,
but in sentence (17), it is complex transitive. To make the difference
clearer, the direct objects are
(16) She made her grandmother a lampstand.
(17) She made her grandmother very
In such cases, we can tell whether a sentence is ditransitive by
whether we can take the
first of two NPs and put it into a prepositional phrase beginning with
"to" or "for":
(a) She made a lampstand for her
(b) *She made very happy for
This last test and the "to be" test can also be useful in
distinguishing ditransitive and complex transitive sentences from those
cases in which a direct object is followed by a noun phrase which is
actually serving as a time adverbial (like last week).
(a) We gave a dollar last week.
(b) *We gave last week to a dollar.
(c) *We gave a dollar to be last week.
Exercise 1: Complex Transitive vs. Ditransitive
To test whether you have learned to distinguish these
structures, say whether the underlined portion of the following sentences
is (A) a direct object or (B) an object
1.01 Fred considers the discussion useless.
1.02 He gave me a hard time.
1.03 Joe made his paper a model one.
1.04 They called me the hyacinth girl.
1.05 Tiger bought himself a new driver at
1.06 Tiger will make his wife dinner.
The phrase structure of ditransitive and complex transitive verbs can
be identical, and we diagram them in the same way.
Just for the Record. Another difference between ditransitive
and complex transitive verbs is that both the direct object and indirect
object of ditransitive verbs can become the subjects of a passive
sentence, while only the direct object (and not the object
complement) of a complex transitive verb can do so. That has been omitted
in the discussion above because we have not yet discussed the passive
How Much of This Will be on the Test?|
The most important skill you need is the ability to identify the basic
sentence functions of subject, direct object, indirect object, and
object complement (or object predicative). The last of
these is less important in itself than as a source of confusion in
identifying the others. The predicate types identified in this section,
ditransitive (or dative) and complex transitive are
terms not much used in school grammars, but they will appear on the test.