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Suppose I lend a game to my friend, John. After he returns it, I might say to someone else:

I was returned my game (by John).

I'm torn on the correctness of this. Specifying the agent makes it look less right to me, though not outright wrong. Maybe I ought to use "from" instead of "by"?

I know for a fact it's grammatically valid to phrase this in the active voice like so:

John returned my game to me.

I'm comfortable with changing this into the passive voice:

My game was retuned to me (by John).

I'm fairly confident we can shorten the active voice version a bit by removing the preposition:

John returned me my game.

"John returned me" on its own implies John gave me back to someone or some place. Putting the object right after changes the meaning. However, I'm having doubts about whether this same principle translates over to the very first wording I mentioned. If mine doesn't hold up, is there any way to convert the last phrasing to the passive voice?

Edit: Seems this is a matter of monotransitivity vs. ditransitivity. Always nice to learn the name of a concept. Thank you all for your input! I now realise I was most likely drawing a parallel between "return" and "give".

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  • It's hard to give a definitive answer on this. GrammarQuizzes does not regard 'return' as a verb exhibiting ditransitive behaviour (John gave the book to me ⇔ John gave me the book) at all, needing the prepositional (to-)phrase (John returned the book to me), and 'return' is not in the super-list of 'ditransitive verbs' I've compiled over the years. But I have to say your final suggestion is not disturbingly jarring. I'd say that ditransitivity is becoming acceptable with 'return'. But 'I was returned my book' is still unidiomatic. Nov 24, 2020 at 11:40
  • ... I still can't find a reputable endorsement for my views, so I think it's wrong to give an 'answer'. But I will add that 'she returned him the favour / compliment' are completely idiomatic in less formal registers. But these might be seen as idioms (commonly used expressions pushing the bounds of [in this case] grammatical acceptability), so not acceptable proof-texts. Nov 24, 2020 at 11:57
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    Ditransitive to return, as in She called off the engagement and returned him his ring seems fine to me. But if anything, this NGram suggests that form has fallen significantly out of favour over the past century, being increasingly replaced by the "monotransitive + preposition" form She returned his ring to him. Nov 24, 2020 at 12:03
  • (But I'm also okay with Please open me the door, which i know doesn't work for everyone.) Nov 24, 2020 at 12:06

2 Answers 2

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In English we have different registers of formality. There are no hard lines but I would say that "return" is of a higher register than "give back". This means that speakers who use "return" are likely to accompany it with more formal grammar.

Thus

"John gave me back my game" sounds normal (in my part of the world - England).

whereas

"John returned me my game" sounds out-of-place.

I would simply say

"John returned my game (to me)" - The "to me" is optional because we are likely to know the owner of the game from the context of the conversation

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  • As above. Support (not just subjective speculation) missing. Nov 24, 2020 at 15:21
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I might say to someone else:

I was returned my game (by John).

I'm torn on the correctness of this. Specifying the agent makes it look less right to me, though not outright wrong. Maybe I ought to use "from" instead of "by"?

I was returned my game (by John) is simply wrong and “from” makes it worse.

The active form is “John returned my game to me” and the only passive form is "The game was returned to me by John."

in which “to me” is an adverbial phrase and not an indirect object.

Although you can say “John gave me my game”[1], you cannot say “John returned me my game” because although “to give” is ditransitive[2], “to return” is monotransitive.

I'm fairly confident we can shorten the active voice version a bit by removing the preposition:

John returned me my game.

That is wrong.

[1] where the passive versions are “I was given the game by John”, and “The game was given to me by John”

[2]An alternative view is that in “John gave me my game” is that “me” is a dative complement – this accords with Old English in which there was a dative grammatical case.

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  • I've already said most of this. If you're going to repeat it in an 'answer', it needs supporting references. Nov 24, 2020 at 15:20

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