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I have a book with exercises of the type:

My uncle sent a book to my sister.

Which should be transformed as:

My uncle sent my sister a book.

There are some which do not seem to work well:

Our teacher explained physics to us. Our teacher explained us physics.

Or:

Could you suggest a good book to me. Could you suggest me a good book.

I can't find a rule for when this is incorrect. Or, if not a rule, at least a list of verbs which have this property.

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  • I think you’re looking at this a bit backwards. Many verbs license a prepositional phrase starting in to as an argument; that doesn’t really mean anything in itself. The confusing factor is that, with those relatively few verbs that can take indirect objects, the IO can nearly always be converted into a PP starting in to, which is formally indistinguishable from a regular to-phrase. So it’s not a matter of not being able to turn a to-phrase into an IO, but a matter of being able to take IOs in the first place. Feb 19, 2018 at 12:28
  • @Janus Some would consider 'He baked her a cake' a ditransitive construction; benefactives don't require verbs accepting an IO. Feb 19, 2018 at 12:35
  • @Edwin True—benefactives further complicate the matter, preferring normally for over to. Feb 19, 2018 at 14:04
  • @Janus Then there's 'I envied Joan her new car'; I've seen this analysed as a double DO construction. 'For' doesn't really work here IMO. Feb 19, 2018 at 14:09
  • @Edwin Double DO makes most sense there to me too; there’s no benefactive, either. For works, but with the car, not with Joan, and I would certainly look askance at anyone claiming the car is the beneficiary! Feb 19, 2018 at 14:12

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I am not aware of any "rule" that makes it possible to recognize a specific verb as being ditransitive or not, so my initial reaction was "consult a dictionary", however some online dictionaries seem to be lacking in this regard. I am quite surprised that neither dictionary.com nor merriam-webster make any mention of send being ditransitive.

macmillandictionary uses an example to show that it is ditransitive:

send someone something: I’ll send you a copy of the report.

cambridge and oxforddictionaries mention it can be used "with two objects":

[ + two objects ] I'll send her a letter/email/parcel/postcard next week. (cambridge)
[with two objects] ‘he sent her a nice little note’ (oxford)

This does not help much if you want to quickly check if a verb can be ditransitive, because if it is not mentioned, it may still mean the dictionary simply doesn't mention it, even if it is correct to use a verb with an indirect object.

Searching for "ditransitive verbs" does yield several lists of examples, though, like this Australian list. And indeed, that list does not contain explain and suggest.

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  • Wikipedia, at least, distinguishes ditransitive verb constructions from other isomorphic {verb + 2 object} constructions: << In grammar, a ditransitive verb is a verb which takes a subject and two objects which refer to a theme and a recipient.... English has a number of generally ditransitive verbs, such as give, grant, and tell and many transitive verbs that can take an additional argument (commonly a beneficiary or target of the action), such as pass, read, bake, etc. >> Feb 19, 2018 at 14:17
  • The list of verbs that may be used with two objects that I've compiled further (to the list in the answer) includes advance / allot / answer / apportion / bag / bear / begrudge / bequeath / bid / cite / collect / envy / fax / fling / gather / grab / hear / kick / knit / lease / paint / pick / pose / produce / reserve / select / sew / shoot / sing / stand / telephone / toss / wire. One or two of these may be in dispute. // Analysis is given by Timothy Colleman & Bernard De Clerck, and in 'English Ditransitive Verbs: Aspects of Theory ... - by Joybrato Mukherjee' (some parts available online). Feb 19, 2018 at 14:29

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