The verb "show" doesn't need any preposition. We show somebody something. So what does this structure mean:

Show somebody to something

For example:

They show me to a cent.

What I feel is it is an archaic form, conveys that the thing is a gift which be given to the first object. But I find no source which justifies my feeling.

Can anybody help?

This is the full stanza:

I am satisfied—I see, dance, laugh, sing;

As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread,

Leaving me baskets cover’d with white towels swelling the house with their plenty,

Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my eyes,

That they turn from gazing after and down the road,

And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,

Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?

  • 1
    Can you share some more context for this sentence? Does a "cent" refer to a one penny coin? Or to something else?
    – The Photon
    Feb 3 '20 at 23:35
  • 1
    Is this from the Whitman poem, Song of Myself? In that case you have not included the full sentence, which is, "they ... show me to a cent, // Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?"
    – The Photon
    Feb 3 '20 at 23:38
  • It refers to one penny. My main context is a poem and many times when I put poetry here, users suggested that I have to go to literary stack exchange for such a question. So I decided not to put poetry here. Feb 3 '20 at 23:40
  • 1
    But you didn't show readers that 'the phrase is in the middle of a longer sentence' either, so it is unfair to ask people who don't know the poem (or even that the quote is supposed to be from a poem) for the sense you have in mind. ELU requires context, and not knowledge of lyrics, poems, films, history.... Feb 4 '20 at 17:29
  • 1
    @CJDennis, the rules for poetry are often different from ordinary prose. But in this case the sentence would be perfectly grammatical (if a bit convoluted) in prose.
    – The Photon
    Feb 4 '20 at 22:40

If this is from Whitman's poem, Song of Myself, the full clause in question is

They ... show me to a cent,

Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead

Here "to a cent" is telling how accuately they showed him the the value of things. The direct object (the thing being showed) is "the value of one and ... the value of two". The indirect object (the person seeing the thing being showed) is the narrator.

It means he wasn't shown the value very crudely (i.e. to the nearest dollar, for example), but very accurately, with less than a penny of uncertainty as to the value.

Some similar usages:

Mr. Moneybags knew the value of his company to the dollar.

The carpenter measured the length of the wall to the inch.

This is definition 5 of to at Meriam-Webster.com

  1. used as a function word (1) to indicate the extent or degree (as of completeness or accuracy)...
  • As you say the sentence should be like this in grammatical order: "They cipher and show me exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two to a cent." But I think it is wrong. The direct object is "a cent". Feb 4 '20 at 22:28
  • 3
    @Connoisseur, the thing that is being shown (the direct object) is "the value". "To a cent" is a modifier telling how it is being shown.
    – The Photon
    Feb 4 '20 at 22:38
  • ok. Can you tell me what do you think about "one" and "two". What he means by "the value of one" and two? one what? Feb 4 '20 at 22:45
  • 1
    @Connoisseur, now that is a question of interpreting the poem, rather than simply one of grammar. It's for you as the reader to decide.
    – The Photon
    Feb 4 '20 at 22:48
  • I am still not sure about your grammatical solution. But I like to know your interpretation. Feb 4 '20 at 22:53

Show is a bitransitive verb. It isn't that it needs a preposition, exactly; the problem is that it has two objects. One is a person, an experiencer, the audience; and the other is what's being shown to the audience, the show. Prepositions are useful to mark them. For instance, the following two sentences are both grammatical, and both mean the same thing:

  • He showed her the car.
  • He showed the car to her.

Which one to use is up to the speaker, who may prefer either order of objects, or might like one extra, or one fewer, syllables.

There is another idiom with show and to, however, which is merely transitive; it means to guide a person (typically a guest) to a particular location. It takes a personal noun phrase as object and a prepositional phrase with to and a locational noun phrase.

  • He showed her to the Observatory.
  • He showed her to the car.

The last sentence means that he guided her (in person) to the location of the car.

  • 2
    This doesn't address the usage being asked about, where "to a cent" indicates in how much detail the thing (the "value of one") is being shown.
    – The Photon
    Feb 4 '20 at 16:59
  • Outside an imaginary context, *She showed me to a cent is ungrammatical without a final object for show, which is still bitransitive and requires a direct as well as an indirect object. Feb 4 '20 at 18:57
  • It's from a Whitman poem that's easily found online. There is an object in the original, but OP didn't include the full context in their post.
    – The Photon
    Feb 4 '20 at 19:05
  • The full stanza added. Feb 4 '20 at 22:23

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