In English, there are intransitive verbs which can't used with a noun, or aren't being used with a noun (eg. listen, die, ...), and transitive verbs which can be (eg. almost all of them).

However, amongst the transitive usage of verbs, often a verb can be followed by two nouns, eg. "bring me dinner", or "write John a letter". What's the name for this usage of a verb, and does it only ever apply with 2 nouns? Can any be used with 3 or more nouns?

  • 4
    I'll bet you five bucks three nouns can follow a verb. – Peter Shor Jul 9 '11 at 16:51
  • @Peter Shor: Exactly; see my answer below. – CesarGon Jul 9 '11 at 16:54

You can call them ditransitive verbs, which are transitive verbs that accept two objects.

We gave George a puppy. Alice gave Charles the rubbit.

In these examples, George and Charles are the indirect objects.

The same page makes a distinction between ditransitive verbs, and complex transitive verbs, which are verbs using two complements.

She considered George a friend.
Alice called Charlie amusing.

In the latter example, George is the direct object, and a friend is an object complement.

As far as I know, in English verbs don't take more than two objects.

  • See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valency_(linguistics) for an example of a tetravalent (i.e. three-object) verb! – CesarGon Jul 9 '11 at 16:48
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    Yes, depending on your model, cases such as "I bet Bob ten pounds on the horse" would count as taking 3 complements. – Neil Coffey Jul 9 '11 at 17:30
  • @Neil it seems dubious eh? "on the horse" is just adverbial right? As in "I bet Bob ten pounds .. quickly" "I bet Bob ten pounds .. slowly" "I bet Bob ten pounds .. on the horse". – Fattie Jul 10 '11 at 11:34
  • @CesarGon: the websites seem to distinguish between transitivity and valency, so bet is ditransitive, but tetravalent. – Peter Shor Jul 10 '11 at 13:06
  • Joe - it's not dubious, just a different way of looking at things. The traditional view of "direct/indirect" being the only type of object probably forces you to say that "on the horse" is an 'adverbial'. But note the difference in possibility of passivisation between: "The horse was bet five pounds on at the betting shop" and "??The betting shop was bet five ppunds at on the horse". Saying that "on the horse" is 'just an adverbial' doesn't quite capture the whole situation. – Neil Coffey Jul 10 '11 at 15:24

In addition to ditransitive or ambitransitive, the term valency is used to refer to the number of arguments of a verbal predicate. See here for an intro.

Wikipeda has some additional information, and claims that tetravalent (i.e. three-object) verbs exist in English. Bet is an example.

  • How does 'bet' take more than 2 objects? That example seems to be "bet him five quid", which is only 2 objects, one of them with an adjective ('five'). – Jez Jul 9 '11 at 17:09
  • @Jez: the example is "bet him five quid on something". "him", "five quid", "something" are the three objects. Or so Wikipedia claims. – CesarGon Jul 9 '11 at 17:12

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