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Ditransitive Verb

In grammar, a ditransitive verb is a verb which takes a subject and two objects (both nouns) which refer to a theme and a recipient. According to certain linguistics considerations, these objects may be called direct and indirect, or primary and secondary.

Setting the theme using ditransitive verbs

Despite its complex name, the ditransitive verb refers to a fairly common construction of English grammar. Technically speaking, a ditransitive verb is a verb that is connected with both a direct object and an indirect object within a given sentence. 

The prefix "di-" means two. And "transitive" refers to the relationship between a verb and its object. So, ditransitive means that a verb has taken two objects. 

Learn to set the theme in academic writing

For your reference, here is an example of the ditransitive verb being used correctly within the context of a real sentence. 

"He gave the girl a love letter, with the hope that this would persuade her that he was in fact really worth her time." 

In this sentence, the verb "gave" is ditransitive because both the noun "girl" and the noun "love letter" are the objects of the verb. 

Here is is an example, now, of the ditransitive verb being used in an incorrect way

"The football the athlete passed to his teammate, and this allowed them to score a touchdown at the very last minute."

In this sentence, the term "football" is in the wrong position, making the sentence sound confusing and awkward.

Here are a couple rules that can perhaps help you make sure that you are using the ditransitive verb in a correct way. 

  1. The ditransitive verb always has two objects. The two objects have a relation with each other, and the verb expresses this relation. Usually, the meaning that is conveyed is that something is given or done to someone. 
  2. Instead of using a ditransitive verb, it is usually possible to make use of a prepositional statement to convey the same meaning. For example, "He gave her the letter" as, "He gave the letter to her." But whereas the first sentence contains a ditransitive verb, the second doesn't.  
  3. The proper construction of a ditransitive verb is usually learned in a somewhat instinctual way. That is, people don't generally reflect on it; they just learn it as children from the speech patterns and examples of the people around them. 

Ditransitive verbs sometimes rely on cultural situations

An interesting feature of the ditransitive verb is that its correct usage can sometimes depend on cultural factors and/or rules established not so much by grammar as by habit. For example, the phrase, "Give me a break" could also be written without the ditransitive verb as, "Give a break to me." But this would violate common usage, due to the simple fact that the "slangy" ditransitive verb form has by now acquired a meaning all of its own, independent the strict grammatical meaning expressed by the sentence.

It is important to have some sense of these social and cultural norms as well, and not just focus on the grammatical rules per se in a narrow way. It is important to note, this form of the ditransitive verb is rarely used in academic writing.  

Aside from this consideration, though, it is worth pointing out again that the ditransitive verb form is usually an option rather than a necessity, when you are constructing a given sentence. As long as it is culturally accepted, you can almost always convey the meaning you want to convey without making use of the ditransitive verb. The main benefit of using it is probably that you can make the sentence simpler and/or shorter: the ditransitive verb can let you convey the same meaning in fewer words. 

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