That construction has always bothered me.

People will say it's because you envy a person not a thing, and that on the surface is okay, but then why isn't it I envy you for your thing, or because of your thing? Why is it okay, in this particular construction, to drop the preposition? It reminds me of the french "Once upon a time" construction: Il était une fois une vache qui rit. which also seems like it's missing something.

On the other hand there are also examples on the internet that do include a preposition. For example:

I envy you for your lovely car.

and this makes it more confusing because now it seems like it's more of a personal choice and I wonder even more why they are both allowed and which came first?

  • 1
    There are other ditransitive verbs, like give: "I give you your lovely car." That doesn't have an extra preposition. It's possible that this is a difference between AmE and BrE: your link shows McGraw-Hill's American dictionary; ODO shows it without. – Andrew Leach Dec 29 '12 at 21:21
  • @AndrewLeach- I have never associated give and envy like that but it makes some sense. It still feels awkward though with envy while it doesn't at all with give. Thanks. – Jim Dec 29 '12 at 21:45
  • @Jim: It's not particularly an association with give - after all, you could say to Little Red Riding Hood "Take your grandma this food" (well, I could, as a Brit, but likely some Americans would prefer "Take this food to your grandma" :) – FumbleFingers Dec 29 '12 at 22:31
  • @FumbleFingers- What I meant to say was I have never thought about envy as a ditransitive the way give is. – Jim Dec 29 '12 at 23:41

Envy is a member of a Levin class. Beth Levin's book English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation (1993 U Chicago Press) is a classic and is very useful for anyone interested in English. (from the online Verb Index of the book)

31.2 "admire" verbs
abhor admire adore appreciate cherish deplore despise detest disdain dislike distrust dread enjoy envy esteem exaltexecrate fancy favor fear hate idolize lament like loathe love miss mourn pity prize regret relish resent respect revere rue savor stand support tolerate treasure trust value venerate worship

This class of verbs denotes positive and negative psychological states of the experiencer subject, and participates in three major "Possessor-Attribute Factoring Alternations", as Levin calls them (examples below from Levin pp 72-6, illustrated with envy):

1. (2.13.1) Possessor Object Alternation
They envied the volunteers' dedication
They envied the volunteers for their dedication.

2. (2.13.2) Attribute Object Alternation
They envied the volunteers' dedication
They envied the dedication in the volunteers.

3. (2.13.3) Possessor and Attribute Alternation
They envied the volunteers' dedication
They envied the volunteers their dedication.

  • I think OP's issue here is to do with why he's unsure about inserting a preposition if there are two objects. I'm now pretty much certain Brits find it easier to discard the preposition with a wider range of verbs, but even I can't manage that with some words in your list (execrate, lament, worship, for example). I could (just about) accept ditransitive usage for most, though. – FumbleFingers Dec 29 '12 at 22:43

Why pick on envy? It’s no different from many other verbs found with two objects. Examples include:

I refuse you your leave of absence.

I forgive you your sins.

I grant you your effrontery.

I spare you the details.

I wish you a Happy Christmas.

The more interesting question is perhaps to ask which is the direct and indirect object in each case.

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