English Double Object Construction
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English Double Object Construction


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English double object constructions (The boy gave the girl the letter) have two objects. Are these two objects the same with respect to their grammatical function? By using various diagnostics of objecthood (such as passivizability, relative clauses, etc), what evidence is there for there being the same or different grammatical functions of these objects?



In syntax a noun phrase often forms a semantic relation with the verb to form a meaning. Owing to this inter-relation an argument comprises of a subject and an object, where they are tied to a verb as a semantic agent, or as a syntactical relation (Shanley, 2015). While, stereotypically a subject is an agent (an entity which instigates an action), and object (is a patient which undergoes an action). For example, Mary read a book. Yet, it is easy to find exceptions to this rule in the language, such as in causative and passive sentences (Shanley, 2015). For the purpose of this paper, such exception in syntax- double object or dative shift construction will be studied.

A double object construction in the English language is a sentence construction where there are two arguments of a verb, and two noun phrases (NPs) which function as objects (a direct and an indirect object) (Verspoor, 1994). While, in traditional sense the NP1 and NP2 are supposed to be in some form of symmetry, there is no assurance that there is only one correct structure in a double object construction (Hale and Keyser, 1993). Incidentally, this pose a challenge with respect to the syntax and grammatical function of the objects. Yet, it is reflected that like most lexical argument, a double object construction also work around the syntactical and semantics constraints.


Also, known as the dative shift, double object construction is a type of sentence that has two alternating forms. Here, even when there are two objects it is not necessary that both the objects when seen in a different arrangement will form a core argument (Shanley, 2015). This pose a challenge for any language learner in deciding which verb is the part of the argument structure. For example, how does one share their perceptions about viewing say a leopard? Is it:

I saw a leopard

Or, I looked at a leopard

This challenge of transitive and intransitive structures in the lexical framework further increases challenge in deciphering which sentences thus are more likely to be following the conventions of double object construction. Through this paper, the sentence 'The boy gave the girl the letter' is studied, and an assessment of the objects in terms of their grammatical function is completed.

Double object construction and Dative shift

As discussed earlier, a double object construction is a type of argument where there are two verbs. Even when object, or verb is one of the most common type of component in an argument, it is often given relatively less value than the subject is a sentence. An object in any sentence is thought to be a component which is affected by the subject, and not vice-a-versa, as a result, the comprehension of a subject that is affected by two variables becomes all the more challenging (Hale and keyser, 1993). However, this paradigm is challenged moment we think of the double object construction which is based on the frameworks such as prepositional dative structure (Macdonal, nd). As per Hudson (nd), one of the important component of the double object construction is that it challenges the configurational definition of the sentence, and offers an alternate solution. An example of a simple dative like the following also focuses on this aspect,

John sent a letter to Mary 

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