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a) The administrative office sent a sick koala to Australia.

b) *The administrative office sent Australia a sick koala.

Given the alternation case above, sentence (b) is considered non-sentence because the indirect object (Australia) is not an animate recipient and no possessive relation is established between the indirect and direct object.

However, I wondered whether English sentences like (b) are not actually used. Then I looked it up in a corpus and found the following examples.

c) Later Boeing sent Japan some very sophisticated CAD/CAM manufacturing technology...

d) Then Heaven ... sent China five years of drought.

I was more confused because I could not tell the difference between (c)(d) and (b). Then I would like to ask the following two questions.

I. Is sentence (b) acceptable or not? Why?

II. How about if the subject of (b) is "Japan"?

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    There's nothing wrong with sentence (b).
    – Hot Licks
    May 28 at 19:33
  • . . . as the already posted answer says. (@HotLicks).
    – jsw29
    May 28 at 20:27
  • 5
    I don't personally find sending sick koalas acceptable, but maybe that's just me. You should wait until the poor animals are healthy again. Then they'd be okay to send.
    – tchrist
    May 29 at 2:16
  • 4
    @tchrist, if anybody knows how to treat sick koalas, surely it's the Australians?
    – TonyK
    May 29 at 10:45
  • 3
    Most koalas are infested with chlamydia, so finding a healthy koala is a more impressive feat.
    – bishop
    May 29 at 14:04

3 Answers 3

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The names of countries function in two subtly different ways. In one of them, the name stands for a certain area of the Earth's surface. In the other, it stands for a political entity, typically as embodied in the country's government. Both (a) and (b) in the question are thus grammatically correct and meaningful, but they convey different ideas. The former tells us where in space the koala was transferred. The second tells us that the koala was transferred somewhere (unspecified) where the government of Australia will assume the care of the animal.

It should be noted that (a) and (b) are logically independent. Something can be sent to Australia, without its government being involved, and something can be put under the government's care outside the country, by being sent to its official representatives.

When the name of a country is used in the second way, a country can be, as the OP puts is 'an animate recipient'.

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    Right. Locative expressions are often used for groups of people (nations, races, sports venues) and -- as usual for any noun referring to people -- to groups of issues regarding those groups of people, like Moscow refused to negotiate, where the capital city is metaphorically substituted for the country's polity. But when the verb requires a locative, like I moved to Moscow, you're not referring to politics. May 28 at 17:46
  • 3
    Note that 'In the other, it stands for a political entity, typically as embodied in the country's government' needs adjusting. The metonymy may well involve non-governmental bodies as you go on to say (contradictorily). ('Italy sent England a World Cup warning here on Saturday when they cruised to a 23-19 victory over Argentina.' / sometimes used for 'our counterparts / office in Australia' etc. May 28 at 18:32
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    @EdwinAshworth, 'typically' in the sentence you quoted already allows for such possibilities, which all require a somewhat specialised context. Moreover, the existence of a sports team that represents a country (and so can, in the right context, be referred to by the country's name), presupposes the existence of the country's government.
    – jsw29
    May 28 at 20:46
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    'It stands for a political entity' is outside the scope of 'typically' here. May 29 at 14:47
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The implications of these two sentences are different. Given no other context:

a) The administrative office sent a sick koala to Australia.

This suggests that since koalas are native to Australia, it was sent there for treatment by experts.

b) The administrative office sent Australia a sick koala.

This implies that 'Australia', probably meaning the Australian government, was sent a koala that was sick. 'Sent Australia' implies a gift to Australia given the lack of other context. Given that koalas are native to Australia, it is at best a slightly insulting gift if it wasn't known beforehand that the koala was sick, and at worst a more than slightly insulting gift if the koala's sickness was known.

Given other context, it may very well change the implication of either sentence.

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    I would take "sent Australia a sick koala" as "gave Australia a 'present' that was worse than worthless". My guess would be that no actual Koala was involved. A zoo in Austria might appreciate a Koala, Australia has millions of them and doesn't appreciate it one bit.
    – gnasher729
    May 30 at 13:30
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    Or perhaps the context is a multinational company that cares of animals and has offices in Australia; then "Australia" on its own could be standing in for the Australian branch of the company. Metonymy works in lots of ways; as you say, it all depends on context.
    – hobbs
    May 31 at 0:29
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Most but not all of your question was answered already. I will respond to what wasn't addressed, and add a bit to what was.

Both sentences A and B are grammatically correct, although they usually have different meanings, depending on full context of use.

Yes, sentences C and D have the same structure and meaning as sentence B. Next, the inquiry about Sentence C:

Later, Boeing sent Japan some very sophisticated CAD/CAM manufacturing technology...

Sentence C can mean that Boeing sent manufacturing tech to the national government of Japan. It can also mean that Boeing sent this tech to several particular companies in Japan.

If the subject of B is "Japan", then the sentence would be

Japan sent Australia a sick koala.

This would also be acceptable and correct, just as B, C, and D are.

The use of "to Australia" in sentence A may or may not indicate physical geography. That's why I don't think it supports the locative expression explanation suggested by the linguistics guy in the comments, although it would be nice if it did. (I am one of those terrible prescriptivist types.)

In summary, as one of the other comment persons has said, the meaning of both sentences is context dependent, but both are correct grammatically in the English language as it used today. 'Australia' might refer to

  • the physical continent of Australia
  • the government and polity of Australia
  • a branch of a private company's offices located in Australia
  • an embassy of the nation of Australia that is physically located anywhere in the world. By virtue of it being an embassy, it is considered to be part of Australia's sovereign domain. For example, consider how Julian Assange can take refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, or how escapees from the former East Germany would run to the American embassy in Berlin and if they made it to the doorway, they were free from Erich Honecker's regime that disallowed emigration with a wall to keep in, not to keep them out.

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