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Which comes first in the double object construction?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 July 2015

Departamento de Filoloxía Inglesa, Francesa e Alemá, Universidade de Vigo, Vigo E-36310,
Linguistics and English Language, University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PL,


Competition between two methods of marking recipient/beneficiary and theme has figured in much recent research:

  1. (1) Jim gave the driver £5.   (indirect object before direct object)

  2. (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:

    1. (a) ?Jim gave £5 the driver.   (direct object before indirect object)

    2. (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 article 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.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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We are happy to contribute to a special issue that honours Joan Beal, a supportive colleague and friend who has made important contributions to many areas of English language and linguistics, among them the study of British dialects and prescriptivism, two of the topics addressed in this article. We hope she finds something of interest here.


The authors would like to acknowledge financial support. David Denison: Research Network Fund grant awarded by University of Manchester/School of Arts, Languages and Cultures for Advances in English Historical Syntax. Nuria Yáñez-Bouza: the Spanish Ministry of ‘Economía y Competitividad’, Ramón y Cajal Scheme (RYC-2011-07863); the European Regional Development Fund (FFI2013-44065-P); the Autonomous Government of Galicia (Secretary General for Universities, GPC2014/060); University of Vigo. The authors are grateful to Timothy Colleman, Johanna Gerwin, Willem Hollmann and Bernd Kortmann for copies of papers and clarification. We thank George Walkden and especially Paul Johnston for a web interface to CorpusSearch 2, in turn based on Web Query by Pablo Faria for the Tycho Brahe Project (


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