One can say: She piled books on the table; where books is the direct object and the table the indirect.

With exactly the same meaning one could say: She piled the table with books where the direct and indirect objects change places.

Is there a name for this type of verb? It is not quite the same thing as a ditransitive, where the verb takes two direct objects - as in He gave her the ring.

And what other verbs are there like pile, apart from the obvious synonyms like heap?

  • It doesn't seem to be that hard to find other examples "I told the police about the news." "I told the news to the police."
    – Laurel
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 0:24
  • 1
    In "She piled the table with books", isn't table the direct object? I'm wondering whether it's more accurate to say that direct and indirect refer to different nouns in the two examples (but each in the same place) rather than saying that the direct and indirect objects change places (while consistently referring to the books and the table, respectively).
    – Lawrence
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 0:31
  • 2
    piled has only a direct object in she piled books on the table - the table is object of preposition on and hence may be moved along with it: On the table, she piled books. Similarly for the with version, only the table is an object of piled.
    – DW256
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 1:08
  • 5
    I read on the table as a prepositional phrase rather than an indirect object. Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 2:02
  • 5
    I'm note sure why you say that "He gave her the ring" includes two direct objects. I think that most people would say that "her" is an indirect object, not a direct object. Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 6:00

2 Answers 2


This is the Spray/Load Alternation
(Verb class 9.7 in Levin 1993, English Verb Classes and Alternations pp 117-119).

Some examples of the phenomenon, from the link (which also has a list of verbs that take it). Ungrammatical sentences or phrases are marked with initial asterisk, and references are to other alternations in Levin 93.

  • Jessica sprayed paint on the table.
  • Jessica sprayed (*on) the table with paint. (Spray/Load Alternation: 2.3.1)
  • Paint sprayed on the wall. (Causative Alternation:
  • *The wall sprayed with paint
  • Jessica squirted/splashed/sprayed water at me. (Conative Alternation: 1.3)
  • a spray of paint (Zero-related Nominal)
  • *a spray of the wall
  • Jessica loaded boxes on the wagon.
  • Jessica loaded (*on) the wagon with boxes.
  • *Boxes loaded on the wagon
  • *The wagon loaded with boxes
  • *Jessica loaded/stuffed/crammed boxes at the truck
  • a load of boxes
  • *a load of the truck

Compare the Spray/Load verbs with the Fill verbs, also on the link.

  • 4
    Congratulations for actually answering the question.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 22:47
  • 2
    And thanks particularly for giving it a name, so we can refer to it.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 8:54

The Cambridge Grammar of The English Language p313-318 lists a number of verbs that allow alternative patterns of the form

verb + NP1 + PP(NP2) / verb + NP2 + PP(NP1)

A sample with the attendant discussion omitted,

i a. He presented a prize to Kim. b. He presented Kim with a prize.

i TO or WITH credit entrust furnish issue present provide serve supply trust

ii WITH only arm equip regale reward saddle

ii a. He blamed the accident on Kim. b.He blamed Kim for the accident.

i a. She sprayed paint onto the wall. b.She sprayed the wall with paint.

ii a. She loaded hay onto the cart. b.She loaded the cart with hay.

i theme or loc brush cram hang inject pack plant shower smear spread sprinkle

ii theme only immerse lean place push stand

iii loc only cover decorate drench litter surround

i a. I engraved my initials on the ring. b.I engraved the ring with my initials.

ii a. I scratched my initials on the ring. b.∗ I scratched the ring with my initials.

iii a. ∗I labelled my initials on the ring. b.I labelled the ring with my initials.

i theme or loc embroider inscribe mark stamp tattoo

ii theme only carve copy draw print write

iii loc only adorn brand decorate illustrate tag

i a. They hunted deer in the woods. b.They hunted the woods for deer.

ii a. ∗She searched her key in her bag. b.She searched her bag for her key.

i quest or loc fish hunt mine poach stalk

ii loc only check dredge examine inspect investigate ransack scour search survey watch

i a. He hit the stick against the fence. b.He hit the fence with the stick.

ii a. He stabbed his knife into me. b. He stabbed me with his knife.

iii a. He pierced the pin through my hat. b.He pierced my hat with the pin.

bang bash beat hammer jab knock pound strike tap thump

i a. She built a shelter out of the stones. b.She built the stones into a shelter.

ii a. They produce fuel from sugar. b. *They produce sugar into fuel.

iii a. ∗I changed a bedroom from the attic. b.I changed the attic into a bedroom.

i goal/source assemble bake carve cut develop form grow make mould sculpt

ii goal only compose construct derive design manufacture

iii source only alter change fold turn work

The idea is that these verbs allow alternate patterns of complementation with the same valency (2 complements), but with the semantic role of the direct object and oblique object switched. There doesn't seem to be a special word for this on a level with monotransitive, ditransitive, etc.

  • Brilliant. Just what I was looking for.
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 21, 2021 at 8:21

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