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(1) I had it sent to him.

(2) I had it sent him.

I thought the first one is right, and the second is wrong. Yet Google Books has the second example’s graph. Is the second also an appropriate sentence? enter image description here

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Both are grammatical, but, as your graph shows, the first is much more common.

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Generally, at least in N. American Englishes,

  • I had it sent to him.

is grammatical, while

  • *I had it sent him.

is not.

There are a lot of things going on here, including one of several idiomatic have (or get) constructions (consider the difference between the meanings of

  • He had his tires installed. ~ He got his tires installed.
  • He had his tires slashed. ~ He got his tires slashed.

The first one means that he caused the tires to be installed by someone else, at his direction. The second one means that he suffered vandalism, certainly not at his direction.

I had it sent to him is the first construction, not the second.

This has to come from a normal passive like

  • It was sent to him.

But send is bitransitive, so it has an indirect object, normally marked with to. In the active form the Dative alternation can apply to the two objects, losing to when the indirect object follows the verb:

  • I sent the book to him.
  • I sent him the book.

However, this only applies when the direct object is a noun, not a pronoun. In American English, the second sentence below, with a pronoun object, is ungrammatical, though the second sentence above, with a noun object, is fine.

  • I sent it to him.
  • *I sent him it.

Passive of a Dative-altered sentence passivizes the Indirect object, not the Direct:

  • The book was sent to him.
  • He was sent the book.
  • It was sent to him.
  • *He was sent it.

But note that the last one is ungrammatical, too, since it's the passive of an ungrammatical active. That's the reason for the ungrammaticality of

  • *I had it sent him.

It applies the have construction to an ungrammatical passive sentence, producing more ungrammaticality. And that has effects in usage, as the graph documents.

Note, by the way, that this is a matter not of "correctness", but of what linguists call "grammaticality" -- i.e, it's not that nobody ever says this, it's just that when one does say it, it doesn't feel/sound/work right, and one tends not to repeat the experience. The actual grammar involved can be quite tricky to figure out; this is just one datum among many, though a very interesting one. Thanks for the example.

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In British English I find all your starred examples grammatical, though the passive causative feels awkward. –  Colin Fine Jan 18 '13 at 17:17
1  
I'm quite surprised to discover that I sent it you, for example, was apparently far more common in the past. I'm aware that not everyone endorses things like open me the door, but such constructions don't really bother me, and I sometimes come out with them myself. –  FumbleFingers Jan 18 '13 at 17:17
    
Syntax, like any part of language, has areal differences. Nothing new here. That's why I specified American English; I read lots of things written by RP or other UK speakers (I never know what their accents are like), so I'm familiar with some differences. But I've only spent 5 days of my life in the UK, so I really can't say anything about speech there. –  John Lawler Jan 18 '13 at 18:09
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