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Verbs with Indirect Objects

We gave George a puppy this year, and he called it Al

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."

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 object:

(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 consider:

(10) She considered George a friend.
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:
(11) She considered George to be a friend.
(12) She considered George friendly.
In such structures, the second noun phrase or the adjective is called an object complement or object predicative.

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:

(13) (a) George called Martha.
(b) George called Martha sexy.
(14) (a) Gwen named the puppy.
(B)Gwen named the puppy Misty.
(15) (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 underlined.

(16) She made her grandmother a lampstand.
(17) She made her grandmother very happy.

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":

YES: (18)(a) She made a lampstand for her grandmother.
NO: (b) *She made very happy for her grandmother.

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).

YES: (19)(a) We gave a dollar last week. grandmother.
NO: (b) *We gave last week to a dollar.
NO: (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 complement.
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 K-Mart.
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 itself.

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.