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My inclination is to say that the sentence needs to be “It provides people with an easy way to communicate.”, but I'm struggling to explain why. Certainly provide can be used transitively (“I provide food.”) or intransitively (“The government provides.”)—is it a question of valency?

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Wikipedia says that this is an AmE/BrE difference: "provide: Strictly monotransitive in BrE, monotransitive or ditransitive in AmE (provide sb with sth/provide sb sth)." –  Peter Shor Dec 10 '11 at 15:36
    
possible duplicate of Usage of the verb "provide" –  Peter Shor Dec 10 '11 at 16:21
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6 Answers

"Provide" has two different subcategorisation frames:

provide somebody with something

and

provide something [for somebody].

In the latter structure, it can (like "give" and "show") be transformed to "provide somebody something".

So both forms are grammatical and I don't find a difference in meaning betwen them.

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Don't your "give" and "show" parallels also require "to"? e.g. "Give Dave the key" or "Give the key to Dave". You sometimes hear "Give the key Dave" but to my ear this sounds too compressed and a little ambiguous. So I'd argue that when you similarly transform "provide something (for somebody)" the "with" is important. In the OP's example, the 'something' is a phrase where the meaning is clear. But if you change the sentence to "It provides shops customers" it becomes unclear who is doing the providing. –  tinyd Oct 7 '11 at 16:08
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I think if you include with, it might change the subject of "people" to "people with an easy way to communicate" as if the subject is changed not only to people, but people who can communicate easily if that makes sense. The point of your sentence is to provide people an easy way to communicate. So I think keep it the way it is.

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The ‘Cambridge Grammar of English’ (not to be confused with ‘The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language’) is primarily for non-native speakers, but is nonetheless authoritative. Of verbs like provide it says they ‘have special prepositions associated with them and are only used in the oblique construction, not with indirect and direct objects.’

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Strange, I could have sworn you just provided an answer. –  TimLymington Oct 7 '11 at 21:15
    
@TimLymington: Sorry for having overlooked this point. I should have made it clear that my reference makes this statement in a section dealing with a verb followed by both a direct and an indirect object. In such cases, ‘provide’ cannot be used without ‘with’. We can’t say *‘Please provide me your details.’ We can, of course, follow ‘provide’ with a direct object on its own, as you did. –  Barrie England Nov 16 '11 at 17:39
    
Ah. A fair point, though a captious critic might point out that "Provide your details to our office" is common, and not special. –  TimLymington Nov 19 '11 at 11:20
    
@TimLymington: Possibly, but the point remains that ‘provide’ cannot be used with both a direct and an indirect object, but requires a prepositional phrase in place of one of them. –  Barrie England Nov 19 '11 at 11:35
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There are several basically equivalent ways to use provide:

provide (someone) with (something)

provide (something) to/for (someone)

provide (someone) (something)

The last is less common than the other two, but it’s not hard to find, as these sentences from the Corpus of Contemporary American English attest:

That’s the choice you’ll have is having your employer no longer provide you health care. (spoken)

A few, like the Gordons’, were partially and crudely roofed to provide them some shelter and shade from the summer sun. (fiction)

…the present findings do provide us some insights in explaining the specific circumstances under which accountability will influence cooperation… (academic)

A Google search for “provide us a” gets millions of hits, including this quote from Scott McCloud’s TED talk about comics:

I think this is important because media, all media, provide us a window back into our world.

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To me, the direct object of provide is the thing being provided, with the indirect object (and optional preposition "for") being the patient for which a thing is provided. But I am a circa 1990's theoretical linguist.

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I'm from the UK and 'provide someone with something' is what I've always said. However, as I understand it, 'provide' without 'with' is a usage that has come from the US, and may be analogous to the shift from 'write to me' to 'write me'.

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