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verb + two objects
A letter

Ivo Bukovsky from the Czech Republic writes:

Do these sentences have the same meaning or are they different?

bring me the letter / bring the letter to me

show me it / show it to me

she gave us her best regards / she gave her best regards to us

Is it only the context that makes the meaning different? What are the basic/general rules for use of such verbs with the preposition 'to' in cases like these?

Roger replies: more questions

Normally there is no change in meaning if we switch from one to the other. In the examples you quote, Ivo, the meaning is exactly the same and we can choose either formulation irrespective of the context.

When verbs are followed by two objects, the first object (the indirect object) is usually a person or a group of people and the second object (the direct object) is usually a thing:

  • I peeled her an orange.
  • He lent me his pen.
  • They taught us the German alphabet.
  • It was kind of you to make the vicar and his wife a cup of coffee.

If we want to reverse the order and place the direct object first, then the indirect object has to be converted into a phrase beginning with either to or for:

  • I peeled an orange for her.
  • He lent his pen to me.
  • They taught the German alphabet to us.
  • It was kind of you to make a cup of coffee for the vicar and his wife.

We often prefer this second pattern is we want to focus particular attention on the people described in the indirect prepositional object or when the prepositional object is very long:

  • We gave a course certificate to everyone who had attended 90% of the programme.
  • We fetched take-away pizzas for all the children who arrived home after eight o' clock.

It would clearly be inappropriate, if not confusing, to say:

  • We gave everyone who had attended 90% of the
    programme a course certificate.
  • We fetched all the children who arrived home after
    eight
    o' clock take-away pizzas.

as the meaning may not be clear.

     

Here are some of the most common verbs with the for + indirect object formulation:

book build buy catch
choose cook find get  
make order peel pour save
  • He poured me a drink.
  • He poured drinks for everybody in the room.
  • She found me a two-bedroom flat.
  • She found suitable accommodation for all the French tourists who arrived last night.

 

     

Here are some of the most common verbs with the to + indirect object formulation:

award give grant hand
lend offer owe tell  
promise pass show teach throw
  • He handed him a four-page form.
  • He handed a four-page form to everybody who had applied for early retirement.
  • She told them a story about the children who had got lost in the maze.
  • She told lies about her background to everyone at work.
     

Some common verbs we can use with either to or for + indirect objects. These include:

bring leave pay play post
read send sing take write

Sometimes the meaning is the same:

  • I haven't got my glasses. Will you read me the letter?
  • I haven't got my glasses. Will you read it out for me?
  • I haven't got my glasses. Will you read it out to me?

Sometimes it changes:

  • Will you post it to me? Please send it to me.
  • Will you post it for me? I can't get to the post office this afternoon.

There are some common verbs which are followed by two objects which cannot have their objects reversed to allow the to/for formulation. These include:

allow ask cost deny
envy forgive permit refuse

We would have to say, for instance:

  • You have asked me a difficult question which I cannot answer.
  • It cost them a lot of money.
  • I envy you your large detached house in the country.

We cannot say:

  • You have asked a difficult question to me which I cannot answer.
  • It cost a lot of money to them.
  • I envy your large detached house in the country for you.
       

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