English: Subject of active sentence > object of passive?

Michael Zwingli

Senior Member
English (U.S.A. - New England)
This is a grammar question which arises from my trying to understand how voice and transitivity combine to effect the meaning of the second aorist tense of a specific Greek verb. It is well understood that if an active sentence is made passive, the direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the coordinate passive sentence. I have recently read that in English grammar, the subject of the active sentence may be construed as the object of the passive sentence. (Unfortunately, I cannot seem, now, to find the website on which I read that.) I find myself questioning this. See an example:

Active: The dog chases the ball.
Passive: The ball is chased by the dog.

According to what I read, "the dog", subject of the active sentence, is to be construed as the object in the passive sentence, but I do not view it as either a direct or indirect object. A direct object is that which is acted upon, and an indirect object is either the recipient or the beneficiary of the action, and I don't see "the dog" as experiencing either phenomenon in the passive sentence, wherein the subject "the ball" is that being acted upon, and "the dog" seems not to be the recipient of the action. Can anyone tell me what the grammatical identity of "the dog" is in the passive sentence, and why so? It clearly exists as part of the prepositional phrase "by the dog". What is the title and function of this phrase in the passive sentence...a "subordinate clause", perhaps? Thanks much. Now I have to decide how to title this thread in an acceptable way.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    An obvious solution to this is to regard passive constructions as having both a grammatical subject (the ball, which receives the action) and a literal subject (the dog, which performs the action).
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    ...a grammatical subject (the ball, which receives the action)...
    ...hmm, it is true that the subject receives the action in passive construction. So, then from a grammatical perspective, how is the "subject" of a sentence to be defined? Simply as the focus of the statement?
    Don't people often use the word "agent" in this context?

    Yes. The agent is the doer and the patient the done-to.
    I don't remember ever learning these terms, and I had a parochial school education. (Might have been on a daydreaming jag when that was being presented.) Under this scheme, are the terms "subject" and "object" simply discarded and replaced? In the sentence "The ball is chased by the dog", is it the case that "the dog" is the agent, and "the ball" can be called the patient or the subject, in which second case the sentence would be called an "agent-subject" or "subject-agent" sentence? This is an interesting formula, one I intend to learn more about. In your opinion, can "the dog" in the passive sentence ever be called an "object"?
     
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    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    According to what I read, "the dog", subject of the active sentence, is to be construed as the object in the passive sentence
    I can't believe you read that - perhaps, since you can't locate the site, your memory is at fault.
    In your opinion, can "the dog" in the passive sentence ever be called an "object"?
    No, never.

    EDIT : addition : whilst it may be that the subject of the passive verb is sometimes called the patient of the verbal action, it cannot make any kind of sense ever to refer to the agent as the object, either in Greek or English, though, as lingobingo has said, it might make sense to call the agent the literal (as opposed to the grammatical) subject.
     
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    Forero

    Senior Member
    The subject is what (or who) the sentence is about, and the predicate tells or asks something about the subject. The object or objects of the verb are part of the predicate.

    The subject of a verb is always its first argument.

    The subject of "The dog chases the ball" is "The dog".
    The subject of "The ball is chased by the dog" is "The ball".
    The subject of "A friend gave me a ball" is "A friend".
    The subject of "A ball was given me by a friend" is "A ball".
    The subject of "I was given a ball" is "I".
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...hmm, it is true that the subject receives the action in passive construction. So, then from a grammatical perspective, how is the "subject" of a sentence to be defined? Simply as the focus of the statement?
    The grammatical subject of any sentence is the subject of the main verb.

    But in a passive construction, that grammatical subject becomes the done-to rather than the doer in terms of whatever action that verb actually/physically denotes – in linguistic terms the patient rather than the agent, as already said in #4.

    Note that only transitive verbs with a direct object can be used in passive constructions.

    If you want it explained far less simply, try looking up Agent (grammar) - Wikipedia and Patient (grammar) - Wikipedia.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    I can't believe you read that - perhaps, since you can't locate the site, your memory is at
    I might very well be mistaken, but I seem to clearly remember reading that, and being quite surprised. I will redouble my efforts to remember the keywords I used, and to find the website.

    You know, in school, especially in high school here in the States, we usually tend to think of English grammar and literature as bullshit that one must fulfill along with the much more important eventual moneymakers: math and science. You know the ethos of the western world: "money talks, and bullshit walks". It is not until one wants to learn a foreign language or two that he realizes how very important an understanding of grammar in general truly is. I personally wish that I had assigned more importance, and devoted more attention to English grammar in those days gone by.

    Can anyone indicate a particularly good overview of grammar in general, with a particular application to English grammar? Are there any examples of classic English grammar that are still in print? Judging by what I see (such as the death of cursive writing instruction), I have my doubts.

    EDIT: My misconception that "subject" always means "the doer of the action" and "object" means "receiver of the action" has been part of my problem. I think, also, that a large part of my deficit here is onomastic in nature. I just don't have enough of the terminology to discern all the moving parts of speech, and the interrelationships between them, in the active<>passive continuum. Learning about the "agent"/"patient" dichotomy seems a small step in the right direction.
     
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    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    This is a grammar question which arises from my trying to understand how voice and transitivity combine to effect the meaning of the second aorist tense of a specific Greek verb. It is well understood that if an active sentence is made passive, the direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the coordinate passive sentence. I have recently read that in English grammar, the subject of the active sentence may be construed as the object of the passive sentence. (Unfortunately, I cannot seem, now, to find the website on which I read that.) I find myself questioning this. See an example:

    Active: The dog chases the ball.
    Passive: The ball is chased by the dog.

    According to what I read, "the dog", subject of the active sentence, is to be construed as the object in the passive sentence, but I do not view it as either a direct or indirect object. A direct object is that which is acted upon, and an indirect object is either the recipient or the beneficiary of the action, and I don't see "the dog" as experiencing either phenomenon in the passive sentence, wherein the subject "the ball" is that being acted upon, and "the dog" seems not to be the recipient of the action. Can anyone tell me what the grammatical identity of "the dog" is in the passive sentence, and why so? It clearly exists as part of the prepositional phrase "by the dog". What is the title and function of this phrase in the passive sentence...a "subordinate clause", perhaps? Thanks much. Now I have to decide how to title this thread in an acceptable way.

    The subject of the active clause appears in the passive, not as object of the verb, but as complement of the preposition "by" in a preposition phrase functioning as complement of "chased".

    Is that what you wanted to know?
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    :thumbsup: I thought that was often called the indirect object, or have I misremembered?

    I would not call "the dog" an indirecto object. But my memory is pretty shaky, too.
    No, it is not an indirect object, which of necessity must be the beneficiary of the verbal action in an active voice sentence. For instance, in the sentence "The dog chased the ball for it's master", the noun "it's master" is the indirect object, as it benefits from the action of the dog chasing the ball. Indirect objects are dative case, as opposed to accusative case for direct objects (for what that's worth).

    The more I think of this, the distinction made by @lingobingo, between grammatical function and literary function seems of great importance in assessing passive constructions.
     
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    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Another definition being that an indirect object is the first one after a ditransitive verb use, as in “he gave the dog the ball”.

    But note that you need its, not it’s (= it is), in that explanation. :)
     
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    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    No, it is not an indirect object, which of necessity must be the beneficiary of the verbal action in an active voice sentence. For instance, in the sentence "The dog chased the ball for it's master", the noun "it's master" is the indirect object, as it benefits from the action of the dog chasing the ball. Indirect objects are dative case, as opposed to accusative case for direct objects (for what that's worth).

    The dog chased the ball for its master.

    I wouldn't go along with what you say. Grammatically, an indirect object is the complement of a verb, not a preposition. In your example, "it's master" is thus complement (or object) of the preposition "for".

    Semantically, I wouldn't say that "its master" is the recipient of the ball-chasing, but denotes who it did the chasing for. Compare "The master gave the dog a ball", where "a ball" is direct object and "the dog" is indirect object.
     
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    User With No Name

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Semantically, I wouldn't say that "its master" is the recipient of the ball-chasing, but denotes who it did the chasing for. Compare "The master gave the dog a ball", where "a ball" is direct object and "the dog" is indirect object.
    Would you maintain the same distinction between "The master gave the dog a ball" (ball is indirect object) and "The master gave a ball to the dog" (dog is object of the preposition to)?
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    I wouldn't go along with what you say. Grammatically, an indirect object is the complement of a verb, not a preposition. In your example, "it's master" is thus complement (or object) of the preposition "for"
    Unlike in a more synthetic language such as Latin, in English indirect objects almost always are introduced by a preposition, usually "to", as in "The dog gave the ball to its master", which, as @User With No Name has hinted, can also be written "The dog gave its master the ball". In both sentences, "its master" is the (indirect) object-beneficiary of, and passive participant in the verbal action, not the object of the preposition "to".

    indirect object - Wiktionary
     
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    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    This is a grammar question which arises from my trying to understand how voice and transitivity combine to effect the meaning of the second aorist tense of a specific Greek verb. It is well understood that if an active sentence is made passive, the direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the coordinate passive sentence. I have recently read that in English grammar, the subject of the active sentence may be construed as the object of the passive sentence. (Unfortunately, I cannot seem, now, to find the website on which I read that.) I find myself questioning this. See an example:

    Active: The dog chases the ball.
    Passive: The ball is chased by the dog.

    According to what I read, "the dog", subject of the active sentence, is to be construed as the object in the passive sentence, but I do not view it as either a direct or indirect object. A direct object is that which is acted upon, and an indirect object is either the recipient or the beneficiary of the action, and I don't see "the dog" as experiencing either phenomenon in the passive sentence, wherein the subject "the ball" is that being acted upon, and "the dog" seems not to be the recipient of the action. Can anyone tell me what the grammatical identity of "the dog" is in the passive sentence, and why so? It clearly exists as part of the prepositional phrase "by the dog". What is the title and function of this phrase in the passive sentence...a "subordinate clause", perhaps? Thanks much. Now I have to decide how to title this thread in an acceptable way.
    It's not an easy topic, but don't despair.

    It helps to differentiate between structure (syntax) and meaning (semantics). Syntax and Semantic, two linguistic branches, are key components of language/communication. Unfortunately, grammar books, particularly those for a general audience, don't make a distinction between syntax and semantics, and that leads to confusion, as you've found out. In any event:

    In semantics, terms such as subject, direct object and indirect object are defined by "meaning." And, by the way, these are also terms used in Traditional Grammar, the type of grammar taught in schools (up to high school). Thus, the subject is the "doer" of an action, the direct object is the "recipient" of an action, and the indirect object is the "beneficiary" of an action. The prototypical form for all three terms is a "noun phrase." In traditional grammar, the term "indirect object" is also given to prepositional phrases. My guess is that they site that you visited, and where you got your information, relies on Traditional Grammar, which is why they call "by the dog" an indirect object.

    But "meaning" (i.e. "doer." "recipient," "beneficiary") is not what syntax takes into account when defining those terms. In syntax, subject and objects are grammatical/syntactic categories, with identifiable syntactic features. Thus, "subject" is that grammatical elements which, for example, [1] agrees in number singular or plural with the verb (the dog chases ~ the dogs chase); [2] undergoes inversion with the auxiliary verb to form questions (The ball is chased ~ Is the ball chased?). If there is no auxiliary verb, auxiliary "do/does" is added (The dog chases the ball ~ The dog does chase the ball ~ Does the dog chase the ball?). Several grammatical elements can function as "subject:"

    Noun phrase: The dog chases the ball
    Finite clause: That the dog chases the ball is obvious
    Nonfinite clause: Chasing the ball makes the dog tired
    Prepositional Phrase: Under the bed is where you find the dog
    etc.
    As subjects, all of these can do either agreement or inversion.

    In syntax, the direct and indirect objects have distinctive properties. For example, the direct object comes immediately after the verb (The dog chases the ball). An indirect object can only appear if there is already a direct object. In such cases, the indirect object comes first, followed by the direct object. This is what happens with ditransitive verbs (I gave the dog a ball). A further feature of the indirect object is that it commonly undergoes what's known as "dative transformation," which basically means that the indirect object becomes a prepositional phrase and is placed after the direct object (I gave a ball to the dog). In syntax, "to the dog" is not an indirect object, because (1) it doesn't come before the verb, and (2) prepositional phrases are not indirect objects.

    Now, in specialized grammars, syntacticians/linguists don't always use the terms "direct" and "indirect" objects, largely because the relationship to "recipient" and "beneficiary" is not always clear. For example, in Relational Grammar, some simply call the direct object "object." If there are two objects, the labels "object 1" and "object 2" are used. And in Functional Grammar, they just use the term "complements" instead of "objects" following on the idea that grammatical elements "complete" the meaning of the verb.

    Active and passive sentences are two ways of presenting the same information, but with a different focus. Basically, what comes first gets greater focus. And so in the active

    The dog chases the ball

    "The dog" is the "subject" by semantics/meaning (the "doer") and by syntax (by agreement and by inversion). If you want to place greater focus on the direct object "the ball," turn to the passive:

    The ball is chased by the dog

    In syntax, identifying the "subject" is not a problem: it's "The ball;" it's what undergoes agreement and inversion with the verb. But, in semantics, "The ball" is not a "doer." The "doer" is "the dog," but "the dog" appears represented as a prepositional phrase, but it can't be "subject" because that slot is already occupied by "The ball." Someone long ago came up with a new label for the prepositional phrase "by the dog:" agent. "Agent" is commonly used across the board, in both syntax and semantics, to refer to that grammatical element in the passive voice which isn't the "subject" but which performs the verb action. Many times, the "agent" is optional (Mistakes were made), because disclosing the "agent" is not really necessary. But in some cases, such as your example, the "agent" is a necessity. The ball is chased is not quite the same as The ball is chased by the dog.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    It seems there is a difference between traditional AmE grammar and traditional BrE grammar.

    In traditional AmE grammar, the Old English cases dative, accusative, and instrumental are never mentioned. No person, dog, or ball is ever a direct object or an indirect object. Only a word or phrase can be an indirect object, and an indirect object is never a phrase that follows or begins with a preposition (e.g. to, for, of, by, with). In the following 3 sentences, him is an indirect object:

    They asked him his name.
    You gave him a ball.
    I baked him a cake.


    That these mean (almost) the same as the following similar sentences with prepositions does not make him an indirect object in the latter:

    They asked of him his name.
    You gave to him a ball.
    I baked for him a cake.

    Him
    is the object of a preposition (of, to, for) in each of the latter 3 sentences.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    In traditional AmE grammar, the Old English cases dative, accusative, and instrumental are never mentioned. No person, dog, or ball is ever a direct object or an indirect object.
    Haha, I have completely forgotten all of the scant (American) English grammar that I learned in school. My understanding of indirect objects derives utterly from my period of wrestling with the Latin dative during my studies of that language. Though we no longer use or mention grammatical case, I don't think that either British or American English grammar has deviated significantly, with respect to indirect objects, from the understanding presented in Latin. In fact, I think that one of the benefits of studying Latin or Greek is that the identity of such things as indirect objects are clarified by means of the study of grammatical case.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    No person, dog, or ball is ever a direct object or an indirect object.
    But, any grammatical object must be a noun of some kind...
    That these mean (almost) the same as the following similar sentences with prepositions does not make him an indirect object in the latter:

    They asked of him his name.
    You gave to him a ball.
    I baked for him a cake.

    I don't think that these nouns being called the "objects" of their respective controlling prepositions proscribes their being construed to be indirect objects of the sentence, in relation to the verbal action. Calling them "objects of their prepositions" simply indicates that they are controlled by and complete the meaning introduced by the prepositions, and so forming a phrase with distinct meaning..

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    From the Wikipedia article entitled "Oblique case":

    An objective case is marked on the English personal pronouns and as such serves the role of the accusative and dative cases that other Indo-European languages employ. These forms are often called object pronouns. They serve a variety of grammatical functions which they would not in languages that differentiate the two. An example using first person singular objective pronoun me:

    • in an accusative role for a direct object (including double object and oblique ditransitives):
    Do you see me? The army sent me to Korea.
    • in a dative role for an indirect object:
    Kim passed the pancakes to me.  Or colloquially, Kim passed me the pancakes.

    etc., etc.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    So you see, the noun of a prepositional phrase in the English oblique can be construed at once as the object of it's preposition, and as the indirect object of the sentence. I think that the construction holds for any noun, as it does for personal pronouns. If "me" can be the indirect object of "Kim passed the pancakes to me", then "its master" can be the indirect object of "The dog gave the ball to its master", or indeed for "The dog chased the ball for its master", don't you think?
     
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    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    In fact, I think that one of the benefits of studying Latin or Greek is that the identity of such things as indirect objects are clarified by means of the study of grammatical case.
    In a way, that begs the question. It wouldn't help you to deal with the fact that in English we can say 'He gave Marcus the ball' and 'He gave the ball to Marcus' (only one choice in Latin). Traditional grammar in general applies the formulations of Latin grammar to English, and since there are may similarities in syntax etc. it's not surprising that it works quite well. In fact, I basically think in terms of traditional grammar, and still thinks it's the simplest way of offering useful explanations to learners; but modern linguists/grammarians want to take into account all those awkward usages that we conveniently ignore, and get closer to how English, and language generally, works; the problem for many is that modern linguists/grammarians haven't agreed on a vocabulary with which to express their insights (or, indeed, on a basic approach), and that getting to grips with their analyses demands a lot of effort - more than many, including myself, are prepared to make. The terminology of traditional grammar is much more of a lingua franca.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    In traditional AmE grammar, the Old English cases dative, accusative, and instrumental are never mentioned.
    I learned about genitive, dative and accusative in 10th grade, in first-year German, and subjunctive the following year, in second-year German.

    (I already knew about nominative because of the sentence "It is I" -- the last word was a predicate nominative and was by definition in the nominative case.)
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    So you see, the noun of a prepositional phrase in the English oblique can be construed at once as the object of it's preposition, and as the indirect object of the sentence.
    This is not to say that every prepositional phrase in this type of sentence will have a noun which is the indirect object of the sentence. Knowing some Latin grammar helps in determining which ones can...which prepositions can control a phrase containing an indirect object. Only those prepositions corresponding to those Latin prepositions which control the dative can do so. For instance, "Robert" in the sentence "Charles pushed the car with Robert" is not an indirect object, as old Bobby is not the beneficiary of the verbal action. English "with" corresponds to Latin "cum", which controls not the dative, but rather the ablative case.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    I learned about genitive, dative and accusative in 10th grade, in first-year German, and subjunctive the following year, in second-year German.
    This is why Germans (generally) have a bit of an easier time learning Latin and Ancient Greek than do we Anglos.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I'm afraid you completely lost me right here. Could you clarify this, please? Thanks.
    That is the difference between subject-object and agent-patient. They belong to different levels of analysis: subject and object are terms of syntactic analysis and refer to words and not to things or persons these words stand for while agent and patient refer to the objects or persons words stand for and not for the words as such.

    But I am not quite sure why he relates this to BrE vs. AmE grammar. These are quite general concepts that apply to many grammar systems.
     

    billj

    Senior Member
    British English
    Unlike in a more synthetic language such as Latin, in English indirect objects almost always are introduced by a preposition, usually "to", as in "The dog gave the ball to its master", which, as @User With No Name has hinted, can also be written "The dog gave its master the ball". In both sentences, "its master" is the (indirect) object-beneficiary of, and passive participant in the verbal action, not the object of the preposition "to".

    indirect object - Wiktionary

    I'm sorry, but what you say is untrue. In fact, the exact opposite is the case.

    Noun phrases functioning as core complements are related directly to the verb, while those functioning within preposition phrases are related to the verb only indirectly, via the preposition. In your example, "its master" is complement of the preposition "to", not complement of the verb "gave". "Its master" is of course the recipient, and although a recipient is semantically involved in the semantics of "gave", the preposition "to" can be regarded merely as identifying the noun phrase that has this role.

    Consider this pair:

    a. I sent Sue a copy. b. I sent a copy to Sue.

    You would consider that "Sue" is indirect object in b. just as it is in a.

    But "Sue" also has that role in the passive Sue was sent a copy, yet you wouldn't want to say that "Sue" was indirect object here: "Sue" is clearly subject.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    But "Sue" also has that role in the passive Sue was sent a copy, yet you wouldn't want to say that "Sue" was indirect object here: "Sue" is clearly subject.
    That is the reason why the concept of direct and indirect object is so obscure in English and we are having this discussions. In languages where case inflections still exist and direct and indirect objects are naturally distinct (direct object=accusative, indirect object=dative), sentences like
    She was sent a copy
    are ungrammatical. Only direct (accusative) objects can become the subject of the passive voice.

    Old English had the concept of subject-less passive voice, i.e. you could say, translated into modern English, something like this:
    *was sent her a copy
    but not in that world order because Old English was essentially (with some exceptions that exhibit modern SVO word order and also with remnants of the older Germanic SOV word order) still a V2-language, i.e. it supported various word orders as long as the finite verb remained in second position. For that reason, the dative object was moved into first positions producing sentences like (again translated into modern English):
    Her was sent a copy,
    Her was a copy sent.

    The latter structure is still used in modern German, which still has case endings and has still retained V2 word order.

    In Middle English case endings had decayed and these dative objects on first positions were re-interpreted as subjects and, hence, sentences like
    She was sent a copy
    became possible.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    But "Sue" also has that role in the passive Sue was sent a copy, yet you wouldn't want to say that "Sue" was indirect object here: "Sue" is clearly subject.
    Yes, of course, when talking about indirect objects, we are dealing with the active voice. Apart from that, I must digest the latest posts after splashing some water on my face (just got up, you know).
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    Noun phrases functioning as core complements are related directly to the verb, while those functioning within preposition phrases are related to the verb only indirectly, via the preposition. In your example, "its master" is complement of the preposition "to", not complement of the verb "gave". "Its master" is of course the recipient, and although a recipient is semantically involved in the semantics of "gave", the preposition "to" can be regarded
    Yes, regarding completion, but I analyze the parts of speech a bit differently than you appear to (perhaps I am wrong). My feeling is that "The dog gave its master the ball" is a mere colloquialism, what may be called an example of linguistic "de-analysis" and ungrammatical in the strictest sense, used (originally informally, and now legitimized through usage) in place of the more grammatically correct (read "complete") "The dog gave the ball to its master". In this second sentence, the entire prepositional phrase to its master, and not only its master represents the indirect object, the preposition only having been made necessary as a syntactic marker by the loss of inflection in the language. In fact, the only reason the preposition "to" appears in the sentence in the first place (indeed, as is the same with inflection in synthetic languages) is to indicate distransitivity in the action.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    My feeling is that "The dog gave its master the ball" is a mere colloquialism
    I don't see why. You can express the (semantic) beneficiary of the action with to different syntactic constructs, with an indirect object:
    The dog gave its master the ball
    or with a prepositional adjunct:
    The dog gave the ball to its master.
    Both are possible and mean the same.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    I don't see why. You can express the (semantic) beneficiary of the action with to different syntactic constructs, with an indirect object:
    The dog gave its master the ball
    or with a prepositional adjunct:
    The dog gave the ball to its master.
    I think this is indicated by the positional dependence of its master in The dog gave its master the ball...to say The dog gave the ball its master would render a confused meaning, but to say The dog gave to its master the ball renders a comprehensible meaning. To me, this indicates an essential incompleteness when the prepositional marker is removed.

    The preposition "to" in The dog gave the ball to its master does not serve the same function (an essentially prepositional function) as it does in a sentence like We went to the store before lunch, where it (prepositionally) indicates position or motion. It acts in the sentence that we are considering, as a grammatical marker, indicating distransitivity and a passive participant in the action of the verb.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I think this is indicated by the positional dependence of its master in The dog gave its master the ball...to say The dog gave the ball its master would render a confused meaning, but to say The dog gave to its master the ball renders a comprehensible meaning. To me, this indicates an essential incompleteness when the prepositional marker is removed.
    *The dog gave the ball its master.
    is excluded because of the missing case markers in English and the direct and indirect objects are therefore distinguished by word order:
    <subject> <verb> <indirect object> <direct object>.
    This why you have to replace the indirect object by a prepositional adjunct if you want to change the order:
    <subject> <verb> <direct object> <adjunct>...
    Indirect objects and prepositional adjuncts are different syntactic groups which can express the same thing and can therefore be semantically interchangeable. Prepositional adjuncts (as a third class of objects in addition to direct and indirect objects) are sometimes also called prepositional objects. I think, this is more a matter of taste than of substance.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    *The dog gave the ball its master.
    is excluded because of the missing case markers in English and the direct and indirect objects are therefore distinguished by word order
    Yes, I think you echo what I was trying to indicate.

    Prepositional adjuncts (as a third class of objects in addition to direct and indirect objects) are sometimes also called prepositional objects.
    This begs a question...if the prep. phrase can be called a "prepositional object", what type of object is it? Is it not an indirect object within the context of the sentence? Are we not playing a type of semantic shell game? In other words, why can the "prepositional adjunct" not be the "indirect object" of the sentence? Does the fact of it's being a "prepositional adjunct" preclude its being the indirect object?
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    *The dog gave the ball its master.
    is excluded because of the missing case markers in English and the direct and indirect objects are therefore distinguished by word order
    Side note: In fully case inflected Germanic languages, like German, all 6 possible permutation of subject indirect and direct object are possible with their roles being identified by case markers.

    These four are idiomatic:
    Der Hund gab seinem Herrchen den Ball.
    Der Hund gab den Ball seinem Herrchen.
    Seinem Herrchen gab der Hund den Ball.
    Den Ball gab der Hund seinem Herrchen.


    Subject in last position is theoretically possible but almost only used with poetic licence:
    Seinem Herrchen gab den Ball der Hund.
    Den Ball gab seinem Herrchen der Hund.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    @berndf, what is the function in the sentence of the third class of objects? It seems to me, that its function is to indicate and specify distransitivity in what the sentence indicates happens. Is the prepositional phrase/adjunct/object not, then, an indirect object?
     
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    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    Different functions for different verbs:
    He ran into his neighbour
    He put the Pizza
    on the table.
    But, specifically for a sentence with a direct object, is not the function of the prepositional adjunct as I have indicated above?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    But, specifically for a sentence with a direct object, is not the function of the prepositional adjunct as I have indicated above?
    As I said, a prepositional adjunct can have the same semantic function as an indirect object, namely to express the beneficiary of an action. But prepositional adjuncts can have many other semantic functions.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    As I said, a prepositional adjunct can have the same semantic function as an indirect object, namely to express the beneficiary of an action. But prepositional adjuncts can have many other semantic functions.
    Then, why do we not limit use of the term "prepositional adjunct" to cases in which such constructions exist in simple transitive sentences, and call them "indirect objects" where they indicate a distransitive situation? That way, we would avoid the confusion attending an onomastic overlap, and the term "prepositional phrase" would remain the umbrella term? In other words, why should it be viewed as "a prepositional adjunct acting as an indirect object", when it can simply be construed according to its grammatical function, as an "indirect object"?
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Why would we? A prepositional adjunct is called so because it is prepositional (=governed by a preposition) and not because it can be semantically equivalent to an indirect object (which, as part of its definition, is not governed by a preposition). If and where such an equivalence exists, it is incidental.
     

    Michael Zwingli

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.A. - New England)
    Grammatically, an "adjunct" is defined as "a dispensable phrase in a sentence that amplifies its meaning". In the distransitive sentence, the phrase that is yet called a "prepositional adjunct" is not dispensable, but is necessary to show the distransitivity. Because of this, "prepositional adjunct seems a misnomer in such sentences...within the distransitive context.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Grammatically, an "adjunct" is defined as "a dispensable phrase in a sentence that amplifies its meaning". In the distransitive sentence, the phrase that is yet called a "prepositional adjunct" is not dispensable, but s necessary to show the distransitivity. Because of this, "prepositional adjunct seems a misnomer in such sentences.
    That would be one reason of conceptually differentiating between prepositional objects and prepositional adjuncts. A prepositional phrase is a prepositional object if it is part of the valence structure or signature of a verb and verbs with different signatures are (potentially) distinct verbs. Obviously, in
    He ran into his neighbour and
    He ran his own company,

    the verbs run+direct object and run+into+NP have different meanings.

    As I said, the concept makes most sense with valency theory in mind, which I find rather useful yet surprisingly seldom discussed.
     
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