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Are sentences like the following valid?

  1. He donated the charity five hundred dollars.
  2. She donated the children every penny she had.
  3. We donated the library a large collection of books.
  4. They won't donate the school any more supplies.
  5. Would you donate your sister a kidney?

All of these sound perfectly natural to me. But I can't find this definition (or any similar examples) in any dictionary, and Huddleston & Pullum (2002) claim that "donate" can't be used with an indirect object. Am I crazy?

(I'm in the Northeast US, in case this is a regionalism.)

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    To be honest, none of those seem natural to me; I'd pot a 'to' after every one of those 'donates.' But I may be the crazy one. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:05
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    In other words, does donate work like give?
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:06
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    "Donate" is to only.
    – BillJ
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:07
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    Donate takes an "indirect object" -- i.e, a receiver constituent -- but it does not undergo the Dative Alternation (the rule that relates I gave him the book and I gave the book to him). Like explain, another 3-place verb with the same peculiarity: He explained the answer to me, but not *He explained me the answer. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:32
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    I wouldn't avoid using the term Dative Shift or Dative Alternation, because it's the usual name for the construction. English doesn't have any cases, certainly not a dative, it's true. But it's a name, not a description. Not everyone is confused. Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 19:20

3 Answers 3

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In “Dative Shifts and Prime Rib Dinners,” linguist Neal Whitman examines the oral specimen The townspeople wanted to donate us a prime rib dinner and says:

. . . it is usually noted that Latinate verbs such as donate do not undergo dative shift. Here are some sample sentences from a few papers I found by Googling “donate” and “dative shift”.

[selected examples]
I donated money to the Red Cross.
*I donated the Red Cross money.
I donated money to charity.
*I donated charity money.

He then goes on to provide shifted examples from Google Books:

[selected examples]
Next month someone may donate us an office.
If you want to donate us something for dog food, . . .
I’m so grateful you’d think she’s just donated me one of her kidneys.

He concludes:

I’m not saying that analyses of dative shift no longer need to exclude certain verbs from participating in this alternation. However, the canonical exclusion, donate, isn’t such a good example, after all.

Source: Literal-Minded — Dative Shifts and Prime Rib Dinners

I won’t be doing this until further notice, though.

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  • Marking this as solved because it explains why the examples sound OK to me, even though (as everyone has pointed out) this is very nonstandard.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 15:57
  • This isn't the only case where my intuition disagrees with CGEL, incidentally: "I returned him his keys" and "I delivered him the package" also sound OK to me. Huh.
    – alphabet
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 16:30
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    More from you-know-who here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/90530/… Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:00
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    @alphabet: We may be of like mind! If so, perhaps you could upvote me an answer if you haven't already done so! Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 18:51
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    Open me a beer, will you? Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 0:55
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It's not something I would say as a fellow native speaker in the northeast US, and I didn't find any examples in in COCA in the top 3 "recipient" collocates (charity, campaign, and organization). Excluding false positives, every example I found used "to". You can replicate this yourself by searching for DONATE near NOUN.

I found this grammar discussed in On Shell Structures.

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The Britannica Dictionary explains the usage of donate:

: to give (money, food, clothes, etc.) in order to help a person or organization

[+ object]

The computers were donated by local companies. We donated our old clothes to charity. people who donate money to political candidates He donates some of his free time to volunteer work.

[no object]

Everyone is encouraged to donate.

Probably your examples are regional or informal usage.

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