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Can someone please tell me why it's incorrect to say:

If you give to your child that name.

But you can say:

If you give your child that name.

And

If you give that name to your child,...

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  • Why do you think the first example is incorrect? Oct 6 at 15:18
  • Including 'to' in '... give [[to] recipient] [direct object (etc)] ...' is more formal, often unidiomatically so in some contexts, but still perhaps preferable when the direct object is weighty (a long string) or the structure needs gravitas. Oct 6 at 15:44
  • This is an example of the Dative Alternation: She gave the book to Bill alternates with She gave Bill the book. Both are grammatical, and mean the same thing; that's what transformations and alternations do - change the structure without changing the meaning. Oct 6 at 15:56

1 Answer 1

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Within the typical word order in English, SVO (Subject+Verb+Object),

an indirect object always comes before the direct object

  • She gave the dog (IO) its dinner (DO).

This is the order you expect normally and prepositions are not required. Only if you reverse the order of the objects, you need to use prepositions:

We can often rephrase such sentences with a prepositional phrase using to or for + the recipient. In this case, the direct object usually comes first.

  • indirect + direct object:
    He always gives the class too much homework.
    I never buy her flowers. She’s allergic to them.
  • direct object + prepositional phrase with to/for:
    He always gives too much homework to the class.
    I never buy flowers for her. She’s allergic to them. (Cambridge)

If you give to your child that name.

is not necessarily ungrammatical, but it is unidiomatic, especially in such a short sentence, as it was noted in the comments. Nevertheless, you will find to + indirect object before the direct object in complex sentences, for the sake of avoiding ambiguity between the two objects:

That same spring Congress passed the National Defense Act that increased the number of personnel authorized in the Aviation Section from 60 to 148 officers and gave to the President (IO) the power to establish the enlisted strength (DO). (source)

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    A lengthy DO and a need for gravitas encourage the [to NP1][DO / NP2] ordering: 'One consequence of this moral anesthesia is the belief that you are in good standing with God if you give to him what the desires of your flesh can spare.' [Rosaria C Butterfield; Openness Unhindered; GoodReads {quote 20}] Oct 6 at 15:50
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    Agreed. I was just adding that bit in my answer while you were posting your comment.
    – fev
    Oct 6 at 16:01
  • Thank you for the detailed explanation! :) Oct 8 at 23:48

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