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Take the following two sentences:

  1. She gave him an apple.
  2. She gave an apple to him.

What is the difference between the two sentences?

I heard that the object at the end of the sentence gets more emphasis, but I know that there is no emphasis on the object at the end of the sentence. Instead, the object at the end of the sentence will be new information and the other is old information.

Am I right?

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Though it doesn't look like it, you give more than two sentences here. When spoken (and most people agree that the written language should be made to represent the spoken language as closely as possible rather than vice versa), different emphasis on different elements gives very different shades of meaning. Your first sentence lends itself more smoothly to an emphasis on 'an apple' (perhaps it could equally well have been an orange); your second variant lends itself more smoothly to an emphasis on '(to) him'. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 6 at 10:58
    
@Edwin, I would actually say the exact opposite. “She have him an apple (not her)” works fine, as does “She gave an apple to him (not an orange)”. Much more natural to me than “She gave an apple to him (not to her)”, and marginally more natural than “She gave him an apple (not an orange)”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 6 at 11:59
    
@Janus The usual view is that the end of the sentence is normally where the main emphasis occurs : 'When we speak, the emphasis naturally comes at the end of the sentence. Our voices gradually rise toward the end of the sentence before abruptly falling. Thus, when writing, a simple, effective way to emphasize main ideas and important concepts is to structure your sentence so that the words you want emphasized come at the end of the sentence.' Of course, in speaking, one can come up with many satisfactory twists, achieving effects hard in writing. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 6 at 13:39

1 Answer 1

Think of your two sentences as responses to questions. Perhaps doing so will reveal how different they could be.

Question: Sylvia gave Janice a banana, but what did she give Harold?

Answer: Sylvia gave him an apple.

Or,

Question: Did Sylvia give the apple to him or to her?

Answer: Sylvia gave the apple to him.

The way in which sentence one is worded could indicate the questioner is more concerned about who received the apple than what the recipient received.

The way in which sentence two is worded could indicate the questioner is more concerned about the recipient of the apple than what the recipient received. Notice, however, I did change the "an" to "the."

Notice that I said the two sentences could be different. In practical terms, however, there could also be no difference--or only a very slight difference, depending on how precise the questioner wants to be. The questioner in each question need not have phrased the question in the same way. See if each of the following responses is significantly different.

Question: Did Sylvia reward her student in any way?

Answer: She gave him an apple.

Or

Question: How do you know Sylvia rewarded her student?

Answer: She gave an apple to him.

In each of the answers above, neither the recipient nor what the recipient received is necessarily emphasized; rather, the entire sentence qua sentence provides the emphasis.

There are possibly other ways to phrase answers to each question, but I won't confuse things more than I probably have already! The point is, there is probably no hard and fast rule which will answer your question. That's the nature of the beast, so to speak. The "answer" needs to be "It depends." Sometimes what the answer depends on is a person's preference as to which sounds better or more natural to him or her.

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