Both these phrases are correct,

  • Give me it
  • Buy me them

so why are these sentences wrong?

  • Give John it
  • Buy John them

In these sentences, "me/John" are both indirect objects, and the sentence format is same. So, why are former sentences correct and latter ones wrong?

Also, Do it for me is correct but Do me it is wrong.

What is the reason for this?

  • Welcome to ELU! Are you familiar with our sister site English Language Learners? I think you will find it very helpful. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 5:04
  • 1
    There are a lot of misconceptions here, I'm afraid. Some of the answers can be found here. Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 5:35
  • 1
    I had thought the OP's question was related to how some BrE dialects use pronouns such as "He gave it her". But I had misread the OP's post.
    – F.E.
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 6:06
  • Related: Is it incorrect to say, 'Give me it'?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 7:09

3 Answers 3


The reason why constructions such as Give John it are questionable has to do with information packaging in English. A common pattern is Given-New, whereby given or known information precedes information that is new. In the example above the pronoun it clearly refers to something already known to the speaker and recipient of the utterance, whereas John is the new information.

Collins Cobuild English Grammar (p160) discusses this issue in connection with the decision to use a prepositional phrase instead of the indirect object:

It is normal to use this prepositional structure when the direct object is a pronoun.

  • I took the bottle and offered it to Oakley.

This is because pronouns usually refer to things that have already been mentioned, that is, to information that is known to your reader or hearer. In English, new information usually comes at the end of the clause. So when the indirect object is new information and the direct object is not, the indirect iobject is put at the end of the clause.

Note that in informal spoken English, some people put the indirect object in front of the direct object when both objects are pronouns, For example, some people say 'He gave me it' rather than 'He gave it to me'. Both pronouns are unstressed and both refer to information that is already known, and so it does not matter what order they come in.

It is worth noting that in informal British English in particular you might also hear: 'He gave it me'.


You're talking about sentences where the verb has a direct object and a preposition followed by an indirect object. Sentences of the type:

'subject' +'verb' + 'direct object' + preposition + 'indirect object'

In the sentence "I brought the apples to John" , "John" is the indirect object and "the apples" is the direct object. The indirect object here is preceded by preposition "to".

Another example would be: "I bought the box for Kim". Again here "box" is the direct and "Kim" the indirect object. The preposition is "for".

In these examples it is often possible to change the order of the objects and drop the preposition before the indirect object.

That is, instead of:

'subject' +'verb' + 'direct object' + preposition + 'indirect object',

we can have:

'subject' + 'verb' + 'indirect object' + 'direct object'.

Some verbs that allow this are: bring, give, hand ,leave, offer etc (these take preposition "to") and book, build, buy, make(these are "for" verbs).

Some cases when this is possible:

 1. When the indirect object is a pronoun or a noun and the direct object is a noun or phrase.
** "I brought Mary the apples"** or "I brought them the books they wanted".
This makes sentences like the last one where the direct object is a phrase or clause easier to understand and less clumsy.

 2. It is not possible when the direct object is a pronoun such as "them and it" and the indirect object is not a pronoun and the preposition is "to". Apparently this restriction is only when the direct object is "it" or "them", and not when it is any other pronoun(Eg: some, one etc).

 3. It may be possible to drop the preposition when the direct object is "it /them" and the indirect object is also a pronoun. You might say "Bring me it".

 4. You can't drop preposition when the direct object is "it or them" and preposition is "for". That means: "Buy me the apples" and not "Buy me them".

So to look at your examples:

  • The intended meaning is "Give it to me". By 3 above the rearrangement is possible but not common. It is better to stick with "Give it to me" than go with "Give me it". You could not say "Give John them". Though the meaning is clear, the construction sticks out as odd.

  • "Buy me them" is not correct by 4 above. You should say "Buy it for them".

  • "Give John it" is wrong,by 2 above. You should say "Give it to John".

  • "Buy John them" is wrong by 4 above. You should say "Buy them for John".

In all these above examples, when the direct object is anything other than "it/them" you can readily drop the preposition and place indirect object first.

Eg: Give me one., Buy me some., Give John a few, etc.

 1. http://www.amazon.ca/A-Practical-English-Grammar-Paperback/dp/0194313425

  • Are you quoting directly from the reference book in question? Or you summarising?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 7:03
  • 1
    It's a summary, tailored to the asked question. Since there are subtleties here related to different cases, I thought I needed to explicitly point them out.
    – Arun
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 9:04
  • We need a link to the actual section, and attribution of the actual quoted material. Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 14:39

I hope this helps:

Give me it............ Wrong
Give it to me..........Right

Buy me them........... Wrong
Buy them for me........Right

Give John it.......... Wrong
Give it to John........Right

Buy John them......... Wrong
Buy them for John......Right

  • 2
    Why? Without which, no, it doesn't help.
    – Kris
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 7:05
  • This answer is perfectly wrong: Give me it! is unremarkable in the extreme.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 3:08

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