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."

This feature does not however apply to all English verbs. For example:

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

The rule of thumb is that monosyllabic Germanic verbs can undergo dative shift while polysyllabic French and Latin-derived verbs can't. 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.

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.