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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?

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    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, 2012 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, 2012 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" :) Dec 29, 2012 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, 2012 at 23:41

4 Answers 4

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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.

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    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. Dec 29, 2012 at 22:43
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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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I'm a copywriter, not a formal grammarian, so mine is a "conversational" point of view. Nevertheless, I still try always to be correct. (Note the unsplit infinitive, which might or might not be the way I'd say it in ad copy.)

I found your question because I had just used the "you your" construction in an email. I'm pleased to find that either way is acceptable, and I think that you are technically more correct. "I envy you" is not analogous to "I give you." Nevertheless, I prefer "I envy you your ..." because it gives a slight shift in focus:

"I envy you for your car" > awkward preposition

"I envy you because of your nice car" > Puts too much emphasis on envying the owner, when the focus is really the car. This may seem a rhetorical nit, but emotionally (always important to a copywriter), it matters. The mind registers a complete thought ("I envy you") -- which may be flattering or maybe embarrassing, whatever -- and then the thought is then yanked away "(Oh, it's only because of my car"). The construction is also wordy, and the word "because" is long.

"I envy your having such a lovely car" > Shifts the focus to the car, but somehow now the car must share it with the act of having.

So, if "I envy you your car" does the trick and won't strike the reader as stilted, that's the way to go.

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    Hi Randall. Very enthusiastic. But, ultimately not an answer to the question. Please take the time to read the Tour and see what we expect from an answer.
    – David M
    Oct 25, 2019 at 22:49
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    Thank you. I read the Tour and have re-read it. I understand that if this forum were wide open to opinions it would be little more help than Facebook. But I supposed decades of experience in nuanced persuasive writing (advertising) counted for something. Indeed, if nuance were no value here, we all could have stopped with "It's a dirtransitive verb." I meant to answer the question, particularly "seems a personal choice ...I wonder even more why they are both allowed." While I'm at it, I'll grant that although not analogous to "I give you...", it is like "I forgive you your sins." Oct 27, 2019 at 2:48
  • Ran out of characters. This is just to add that I apologize if I have ursurped the privilege of answering here, and thank you for letting my considered words remain. Further thanks to StackExchange for confirming that the construction I was researching in the first place is acceptable. I sent my email without a preposition. Oct 27, 2019 at 2:53
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Syntactically, these indirect objects can be viewed as introduced by applicative -functional- heads, which add different kinds of arguments that are not required semantically. High applicatives appear above the verb, whereas low applicatives are below it.

This structure is typical of languages like Spanish, where the high applicative introduces a benefactive (Te envidio la paciencia). The fact that sometimes it appears in English is another piece of evidence to Chomsky's Universal Grammar, an inventory of structures where the different languages choose what to use. So my answer would be, English speakers use it because it is available, and it is understandable.

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  • I don't know what you mean by high and low applicatives. In general, I find locative terminology opaque when it comes to language. Left, right, above, below, high, low
    – TimR
    Dec 7, 2023 at 11:51
  • An applicative is a category that allows you to add a participant to an event that doesn't require it semantically. For example, if the verb "eat" requires two participants (the Subject eater and the DO that is eaten), an applicative would allow you to add another one.
    – María
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:16
  • I do understand what an applicative is. I don't understand "high" and "low".
    – TimR
    Dec 7, 2023 at 12:35
  • I don't understand "above the verb" either. Nor "-functional-" with dashes. A quirk of Markdown is that *asterisks* and _underscores_ can be used for formatting: asterisks and underscores.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 7, 2023 at 13:09

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