Which comes first in the double object construction?

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Competition between two methods of marking recipient/beneficiary and theme has figured in much recent research: (1) Jim gave the driver £5. (indirect object before direct object) (2) Jim gave £5 to the driver. (direct object before prepositional phrase) A reverse double object variant is often ignored or treated as a minor and highly restricted variant: (3) a. ?Jim gave £5 the driver. (direct object before indirect object) b. Jim gave it him. However, pattern (3) was much more widespread even in late Modern English, while there is clear dialectal variation within present-day British English. In this paper we investigate the pronominal pattern (3b), mainly in relation to pattern (1), tracking its progressive restriction in distribution. We mine three of the Penn parsed corpora for the general history in English of double object patterns with two pronoun objects. We then add a further nine dialect and/or historical English corpora selected for coverage and representativeness. A usage database of examples in these corpora allows more detailed description than has been possible hitherto. The analysis focuses on verb lemmas, objects and dialect variation and offers an important corrective to the bulk of research on the so-called Dative Alternation between patterns (1) and (2). We also examine works in the normative grammatical tradition, producing a precept database that reveals the changing status of variants as dialectal or preferred. In our conclusion we show the importance of prefabricated expressions (prefabs) in the later history of (3), sketching an analysis in Construction Grammar terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-268
Number of pages21
JournalEnglish Language and Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • double object, Dative Alternation, early English, Modern English, dialect, early grammars


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