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Dative shift

From Teflpedia

Dative shift (/deɪtɪv ʃɪft/) or dative alternation is a feature of some English verbs[1] which affects the order of two direct objects:

For example, the following two forms are equivalent in meaning, but differ in syntax:

  • “Alex gave Brian a book"
  • “Alex gave a book to Brian.”

Form[edit | edit source]

Verbs and prepositions this applies to[edit | edit source]

The rule of thumb is that monosyllabic Germanic verbs can undergo dative shift. Prepositional phrases with to or for can be shifted:

  • I baked you a cake = I baked cake for you.
  • I gave you the cake = I gave the cake to you.

Verbs it doesn’t apply to[edit | edit source]

This feature does not however apply to all English verbs. Latinate verbs derived from French and/or Latin, which are commonly 2 or more syllables, don’t undergo dative shift. For example:

  • Alex explained the book to Brian is well-formed.
  • *Alex explained Brian the book would be an error.

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

Dative shift is also found in other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch, Danish, etc and consequently EFL learners with Germanic languages as L1 may be able to scaffold this onto their own understanding of Germanic grammar.

If in doubt, a failsafe rule for EFL learners is that they can always use the non-shifted form “Alex gave a book to Brian" form and they won’t make an error.

References[edit | edit source]