The English Dative Alternation

Comparison of the HAVE-GOAL approach of Krifka and the verb-sensitive approach of Rappaport Hovav and Levin

Term Paper, 2014

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Susa Schnuck (Author)



1. Introduction

2. The English dative alternation
2.1. Distribution of Verbs
2.2. The main views on the dative alternation
2.2.1. The Monosemy View
2.2.2. The HAVE-GOAL approach
2.2.3. The Information Structure View
2.2.4. Animacy
2.2.5. The benefactive alternation

3. Comparison of Krifka´s HAVE-GOAL approach and the verb-sensitive approach by Rappaport Hovav and Levin
3.1. Krifka´s HAVE-GOAL approach
3.2. The verb-sensitive approach by Rappaport Hovav and Levin
3.3. Comparison of the two approaches

4. The dative in German

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Would you say you ‘...gave a stranger your phone number’ or does ‘...gave your phone number to a stranger’ sound better? In essence, this termpaper is trying to analyse this question. The grammatical phenomenon underlying which decribes those two constructions – the double object dative [a stranger] [your phone number] and the prepositional object dative [your phone number] [to a stranger] – is the so-called dative alternation. The term dative alternation has the ability to express the same event of giving with two specific structures, as shown above.

The following paper will focus on the approaches of Krifka and Rappaport Hovav and Levin. At first, a definition of dative alternation will be given. Important facts, examples and a list of verbs, which allow or do not allow dative alternation, will be provided to give an overview of the topic. This term paper will also respond to the differences between the dative alternation and the benefactive alternation and will afterwards compare the two approaches on dative alternation. The main ideas of Krifka's “Semantic and Pragmatic Conditions for the Dative Alternation” (2003) and Rappaport Hovav's and Levin's “The English dative alternation: The case for verb sensitivity” (2008) will be presented and compared. Last but not least, I am going to introduce brief thoughts of dative alternation in the German language and how it is connected to the English dative alternation.

2. The English dative alternation

The term 'dative alternation' is known from the studies of argument structure and tries to explain two options for realising dative verbs (Levin 2008). In English these variants are called double object construction (DOC) and to-construction.

Those two possible ways of expressing the dative in English, can be seen in examples (1a) and (1b). While (1a) exemplifies the DOC, (1b) demonstrates an example for the to-construction.

(1) a. Ann sent Mary a letter.

b. Ann sent a letter to Mary.

In the two examples above it is possible to express that Mary was sent a book by Ann in both construction-variants. However, this won’t work for all dative realisations.

2.1. Distribution of Verbs

After long years of research and collecting data about the topic, Levin published a list to show that there are verbs that are only relevant in the DOC, verbs that are only usable with the to-construction and verbs that can be used with both constructions.

According to Levin 1993 the following verb classes are only applicable in the double object construction:

“Dub verbs” like call, name, pronounce, label;

“Bill verbs” like spare, bet, tax; save

“Appoint verbs” like want, acknowledge, elect, consider

“Declare verbs” like suppose, assume, think, believe;

And another class of verbs that includes verbs like ask, cost, deny and forgive.

As shown in example (2), sentences (2a) and (2c) are possible, while (2b) and (2d) are not.

(2) a. Mike called his guests a taxi.

b. * Mike called a taxi to his guests.

c. This saved him money and time.

d. * This saved money and time to him.

According to his verb classification the following verb classes are only usable with the to-construction1:

“Verbs of putting with a specified direction” like lift, raise, drop, lower;

“Latinate verbs” like address, refer, deliver, transfer;

“Verbs of fulfilling” like entrust, provide, present;

“Say verbs” like communicate admit, report, articulate;

“Verbs of manner of speaking” like whisper, howl, yell;

To underline this thesis, the examples (3b) and (3d) show that this construction is grammatically correct, but (3a) and (3c) are not.

(3) a. * Sarah reported her friends the news.

b. Sarah reported the news to her friends.

c. * She entrusted me her secret.

d. She entrusted her secret to me

Finally, Levin 1993 listed transitive verbs that can be used with both, the to- and the double object construction:

“Drive verbs” like fly drive, wheel; shuttle;

“Carry verbs” like kick carry, push; pull;

“Give verbs” like feed, pay, sell; give;

“Verbs of throwing” like bash, catapult, throw, toss;

“Send verbs” like mail, hand, ship; send

“Bring and Take”;

“Slide verbs” like, float, slide; bounce, roll;

“Verbs of future having” like award, promise, bequeath, allocate;

“Verbs of transfer of message” like write, ask, tell, show;

And “Verbs of instrument of communication” like phone e-mail, signal, wire.

Examples (4a-d) show that all versions are useable in English.

(4) a. Gina handed her teacher her homework.

b. Gina handed her homework to her teacher.

c. I kicked Eric the ball.

d. I kicked the ball to Eric.

The verb classes and their corresponding examples mentioned above already show, that “there are differences of opinion as to exactly which verbs show the alternation” (Levin 1993, p. 47). The verb ask for example can be found in the class that has no name and can only be used in the DOC, but it can also be found in the class named “Verbs of transfer of message”, which can be used in both- DOC and to- construction. This makes it difficult to find reasons and explanations for the alternation. It also imposes the question, whether it is generally possible and useful to classify verbs for the dative alternation.

2.2. The main views on the dative alternation

There have been several approaches concerning the dative alternation. The three main views, arranged by Krifka, are the Monosemy View, the HAVE-GOAL approach and the Information Structure.

2.2.1. The Monosemy View

The Monosemy View/ The single meaning approach says that both variants, DOC and to- construction are associated with the same meaning” (Levin 2008, p.130). But this has been proven wrong, since it doesn´t explain why sometimes only one version, either the double object construction or the to-construction, is possible.

2.2.2. The HAVE-GOAL approach

The multiple meaning approach seems to be more elaborated. Supporter of this approach believe, that the two “ variants are associated with different but related meanings” (Levin 2008, p. 130). According to this approach the to- construction expresses caused motion. The first object can be seen as the goal of a path. The double object construction expresses caused possession, where the first object can be seen as a possessor or receiver. This theory is also known as the Polysemy View or HAVE- GOAL Approach (McIntyre, lecture 2012). The HAVE-GOAL approach is based on the opinion that there exists a semantic difference between the two variants of the dative alternation. Using example sentence (1) Ann sent Mary a letter that Ann causes Mary to have the letter', meaning that there is a change of possession between the two objects. The to-construction on the other hand expresses 'Ann caused the letter to go to Mary', thus stresses a spatial change; or put differently – motion towards a goal. As one can see the meanings are closely related as well, but the polysemy view claims that as differences show up, certain verbs might only be consistent with one meaning.


1 All verbs mentioned as examples are taken from Levin 1993, p. 45-47.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


The English Dative Alternation
Comparison of the HAVE-GOAL approach of Krifka and the verb-sensitive approach of Rappaport Hovav and Levin
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Anglistik)
Dative Alternation
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
477 KB
english, comparison, have-goal, krifka, rappaport, hovav, levin
Quote paper
Susa Schnuck (Author), 2014, The English Dative Alternation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The English Dative Alternation

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free