. . . and is one preferred over the other?

  1. I believe he sent these contacts an email earlier this week.

  2. I believe he sent an email to these contacts earlier this week.

I feel the second is preferred because "an email" is the true object of "sent". But I'd like to know why.

  • 1
    What do you mean by "true object"? What is not a "true object"? What is it that you think an "object" actually is?
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 13:42
  • When I first read this, I read "sent these contacts" which sounds like the person sent contact information to someone. But no, it was an email that was sent.
    – John Chase
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 13:52
  • 1
    Just two slightly different ways of saying the same thing. In 1. "these contacts" is Oi and "an email" is Od. In 2., by contrast, "an email" is again Od of "sent", but "these contacts" is object complement of the prep "to", not of the verb, and thus not Oi.
    – BillJ
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 13:56
  • 1
    The verb send can be used ditransitively (I sent him that) or monotransitively with preposition support (I sent that to him). Obscure restrictions on pronouns mean that I sent to him that isn't idiomatic, but with an ordinary noun such as My true love sent to me a partridge the construction is "valid" - it's just "poetic / literary / dated" (we wouldn't normally include the preposition there today). Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 14:24
  • 1
    In sentence 1., "an email" is the direct object of "sent" and "these contacts" is the indirect object of "sent"; the word "to" (these contacts) is implied. By contrast, sentence 2., by avoiding the use of an indirect object (and employing the word "to" explicitly), is a little bit easier to understand, although both sentences use entirely good English. Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


The difference between these two sentences is the same as the difference between:

  1. I sent her a message.
  2. I sent a message to her.

In (1), send is used as a ditransitive verb, with an indirect object (her) and a direct object (a message); in (2), send is an ordinary (mono)transitive verb being used with a direct object (a message) and a prepositional phrase complement (to her). In most cases both versions are acceptable.

That said, there are some circumstances in which one would be preferred over the other. Among other considerations, "heavier" (longer, more complex) constituents tend to occur late in a clause (Huddleston & Pullum (2002), pp. 309-310, 1372). Take these two examples:

  1. I sent a woman who works in the office on the other side of the building the letter.
  2. I sent the letter to a woman who works in the office on the other side of the building.

Obviously (3) is quite awkward compared with (4); in this circumstance, the monotransitive version is preferred, since it has the "heaviest" element of the clause at the end.

By contrast, consider these two examples:

  1. I sent her a newly revised draft that had taken several days to produce.
  2. I sent a newly revised draft that had taken several days to produce to her.

Here, the monotransitive version (6) sounds somewhat awkward; in this case, the ditransitive version (5) is preferable, again because it keeps the heaviest constituent at the end of the clause. (There's also the fact that constituents representing new information tend to occur after ones representing old information; this would, in most contexts, also be a relevant factor in (3)-(6).)


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