The Grammarphobia Blog

Unidentified Flying Objects

Q: I was just watching a grammar video in which the instructor discussed two sentences: (1) “I gave a book to my sister”; (2) “I gave my sister a book.” According to him, “to my sister” in the first sentence and “sister” in the second are both indirect objects. I object. To my mind, “to my sister” is a prepositional phrase.

A: We’re siding with you on this one.

As we’ve written before on our blog, a prepositional phrase can be used in place of an indirect object. (We had postings on this in July and November of 2010.)

So the sentence “I gave the book to her” can be used instead of “I gave her the book.”

“Her” in the first sentence is the object of a preposition, not of a verb. You might even say that the indirect object in this sentence has been paraphrased as a prepositional phrase.

In a normal sentence in which the verb has both direct and indirect objects, the indirect object comes first: “I gave her [indirect object] the book [direct object].”

If the objects are reversed, a preposition is needed: “I gave the book to her.” Thus what was an indirect object becomes the object of a preposition.

As we noted in the second blog entry mentioned above, the exception in which the direct object comes before the indirect object is a British usage involving two pronouns (“Give it her” … “Tell it me”).

In American usage, a preposition (“to”) would be inserted.

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