Sometimes while I am watching movies or YouTube videos I hear phrases like "Explain me what it is" or "Describe me the dish".

I feel that those phrases sound a bit unidiomatic to me. Are those phrases correct?

If so, are there other verbs that skip the preposition "to"?

  • 7
    They are unidiomatic. They're a giveaway (a shibboleth) that it's a non-native speaker of English. In my experience, "explain me" is endemic to speakers of Indian English; it may reflect a feature of their native language (as dropping articles does for Slavic speakers of English). Don't use these constructions. – Dan Bron Oct 21 '18 at 17:52
  • Either it's a non-native speaker of you are not hearing the "to" in "explain to me". – Hot Licks Oct 21 '18 at 17:54
  • 4
    Possible duplicate of Which one is correct? "Explain me" or "Explain to me"? – user067531 Oct 21 '18 at 18:42
  • 1
    @HotLicks This concept that there exist "lazy speakers" has apparently gone viral; the pathogen is spreading out of control. People who say "explain me" are not taking shortcuts; they're taking the wrong path, misled by signs in their own language. If there are native speakers who use it in their dialect, it is just that: their dialect. Not "lazy". – Dan Bron Oct 21 '18 at 19:40
  • 3
    No, that doesn't actually happen. – Dan Bron Oct 21 '18 at 20:03

Are those phrases correct?

No. They are unidiomatic.


Explain what it is to me.

Describe the dish to me.

Are there other verbs that skip the preposition “to”?

Yes. A lot of verbs that take both a direct object and an indirect object, allow the indirect object to appear first, without the preposition “to” (or sometimes “for”). That construct is called the dative alternation.

The term “alternation” suggests that the construct with the direct object first, followed by “to” (or sometimes “for”) + the indirect object, is the “standard” construct.

But when the stress in more on the direct object than on the indirect object, and when the indirect object is short (such as a simple personal pronoun or a name), I would say that the dative alternation constuct is the preferred form.


Show me the money. (also correct: Show the money to me.)

Give her the toy. (also correct: Give the toy to her.)

Lend him some change. (also correct: Lend some change to him.)

Tell us the truth. (also correct: Tell the truth to us.)

Ask me anything. (also correct: Ask anything to me.)

Read them a story. (also correct: Read a story to them.)

Write him a letter. (also correct: Write a letter to him.)

Teach him a lesson. (also correct: Teach a lesson to him.)

Promise her the moon. (also correct: Promise the moon to her.)

Do me a favour. (also correct: Do a favour for me.)

Make me a sandwich. (also correct: Make a sandwich for me.)

Buy her a ring. (also correct: Buy a ring for her.)

The dative alternation constuct does not work with all verbs that take both a direct object and an indirect object. It’s unidiomatic to use it with the verbs announce, attribute, confess, convey, declare, dedicate, deliver, describe, explain, introduce, mention, narrate, present, propose, recommend, refer, return, reveal, say, sell, submit, suggest, transfer, …

(Or with the verbs accustom, answer, ascribe, compare, condemn, confine, contribute, exhibit, liken, …)


People might feel differently about some of these verbs. For instance, Jonathan Swift wrote to rev. dr. Thomas Sheridan:

If your worship will please to explain me this rebus, …

And Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street, challenges a few audience members:

Sell me this pen.

  • Deleted comment because I need to go back and sort out the "personal dative", a Southern and Appalachian dialect feature, from the ordinary dative shift. – Phil Sweet Dec 11 '18 at 14:16

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