When we use "give" (and many other ditransitive verbs) in a sentence, we can say either say "Keiko gave her flowers" (noun object) or "Keiko gave flowers to her" (prepositional object). That implies that we should be able to either of these questions: "Who did Keiko give flowers?"and "Who did Keiko give flowers to?" However, speaking purely based on my intuition, having grown up in the US (midwest + california dialects), the first question sounds very strange and potentially confusing.

So, is the question without "to" actually "wrong" (I mean, is there a commonly accepted grammar rule forbidding it), is it just less common, or is my intuition off?


Your intuition is right on.

??Who did Keiko give flowers?

sounds inferior to

Who did Keiko give flowers to?


??She is the one who Keiko gave flowers.

sounds inferior to

She is the one who Keiko gave flowers to.

An indirect object is generally optional in the clause construction, so the link between the indirect object and the clause is weaker than that between a direct object and the clause. Therefore, fronting an indirect object without the aid of the preposition to is less acceptable, if not ungrammatical, than fronting a direct object.

If you change the verb to buy, the version without the preposition for sounds so much less acceptable that it approaches ungrammatical (to me at least):

*Who did Keiko buy flowers?

Who did Keiko buy flowers for?

*She is the one who Keiko bought flowers.

She is the one who Keiko bought flowers for.

I think this is because the link between an indirect object and the clause is even weaker with verbs like buy that would require the preposition for than with verbs like give that would require the preposition to.

  • This sounds about right to me--it's somewhere on the borderline between "strange" and "unacceptable" and "ungrammatical," because of the relative strength or weakness of the different objects. And the comparison with "for" is revealing, since, as you say, it sounds even worse. – Aaron Hahn Mar 4 '20 at 9:28

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