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I encountered a question in an exam which finishes with the sentence, "What rights are being denied to Chris?" I was always under the impression that one says "denied of" rather than "to", but is there a rule to this that must be followed? Is one more correct than the other, or are both generally accepted?

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    You can say that Chris was denied of his rights, but the rights were denied to Chris. – Peter Shor Aug 21 '14 at 1:05
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    FWIW: I would not say that Chris was denied of his rights (or to his rights). I would say that Chris was denied his rights. – Drew Aug 21 '14 at 1:09
  • Why are they "denied to him", though? – Omichronology Aug 21 '14 at 1:09
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    In a strict sense, both are correct, grammatical and mean the same. However, this sense of of is not in contemporary use. – Kris Aug 21 '14 at 5:22
  • @Kris: when was the construction denied of used in this sense? Do you have any evidence it ever was? I find no evidence for it in the OED. – Peter Shor Aug 21 '14 at 12:12
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When a verb represents an action that takes something from the direct object of the verb, of is quite common. e.g.

The warden stripped Chris of his privileges.
His parents deprived Chris of his breakfast.
The pickpocket dispossessed Chris of his wallet.
The vampire drained Chris of all his blood.
He planned to rob Chris of over three hundred dollars.
She cheated Chris of his life savings.
Chris had pruned the tree of its dead branches.
His mother would usually trim Chris' steak of its fat.
Chris cleaned the yard of fallen leaves.
The court cleared Chris of all charges.

It's possible

They denied Chris his rights.

occasional gets shifted to

They denied Chris of his rights.

because it "feels like" deny is a standard taking-away-from verb here. But none of the verbs listed above would use to when making the removed thing the direct object. If anything, they use from:

privileges were stripped from Chris
blood was drained from Chris
branches were pruned from the tree

So deny is not a standard member of that class. And if we trust google ngram, 'deny of' only exists as 'noise' compared to plain 'deny'

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The preposition in this case is indicating the "direction" that the thing being denied would normally go.

Hence:

  • If we talk about something that someone would normally do for Chris, provide him, give to him, etc., then the preposition "to" makes more sense. "Access to the employee database was denied to Chris" refers to something you would expect would have to be given to Chris normally.
  • If we talk about something that Chris would normally be expected to do, have, provide others, etc., then the preposition "of" or "from" makes more sense. "Chris was denied from walking freely around the compound" refers to something you might otherwise expect Chris to be able to do.

The issue of "rights" in the sentence is a little ambiguous, and probably reflects the writer's belief in whether the rights in question innately belong to Chris, or are given to him by some external authority. In reality, no propositions are necessary when using "deny" because we can reference the thing itself without emphasis. "Chris was denied his rights" would work for either case.

Note also, that the verb "grant" works in much the same way.

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