Indirect object pronouns w/prepositional phrase or w/clarifying phrase? | SpanishDict Answers
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7 Vote
  • I gave her the ring.
  • I gave the ring to her.

English grammar rules:

That didn't sound correct to me for Spanish grammar. I've read dozens of articles on object pronouns in Spanish that call to xxx or for xxx the indirect object of the sentence.

While trying to recall how much wine that I had with dinner I saw this article. In it the author writes an example sentence:

(e.g., "I gave her the ring," le di el anillo)

Then he provides the explanation of the parts of speech.

In the second example, the direct object of the verb is "the ring" (el anillo), because it is what was given. The indirect object is "her," (or le) because the person is the recipient of the giving.

Then, the part that caught my eye:

Another way of looking at indirect objects in Spanish is that they could be replaced by "a + prepositional pronoun" or sometimes "para + prepositional pronoun." In the example sentence, we could say di el anillo a ella and mean the same thing (just as we could say in English, "I gave the ring to her") In Spanish, unlike English, a noun can't be an indirect object; it must be used as prepositional pronoun. For example, we could say "I gave Sally the ring" in English, but in Spanish the preposition a is needed, le di el anillo a Sally.)

It seems that he is using the same rules as in English, that you can use a prepositional phrase and there is no i.o., or you can use an i.o.p. and a clarifying phrase.

  • Di el anillo a ella. (prepositional phrase, no i.o.) ...gave the ring to her
  • Le di el anillo a ella (i.o.p. with clarifying phrase) ... gave her the ring

All of that would be fine and it would explain why I see so many sentences that to me seem to have i.o.'s, but no i.o.p.

My question is: Is a indirect object defined in Spanish the same way that it is in English? If the person receiving the verb's action is in a prepositional phrase then there is no indirect object or i.o.p?

Why I'm questioning myself:

from Article on Spanish i.o.

Indirect objects are the people or things in a sentence to whom/what or the action of the verb occurs.

I'm talking *to* José. - Hablo a José.
To whom am I talking? José.

He gives books *to* the students - Da unos libros a los estudiantes.
To whom does he give books? - The students.

Notice no i.o.p. in either of those sentences even though it is providing examples of i.o. (but they are in prepositional phrases in English)

This article:

Susana writes to them... (correct answer is les)

For our Reference article*article on i.o.p.

  • Él me compra una rosa para mí. (He buys a rose for me.)
  • Él me compra una rosa. (He buys me a rose.)
  • Mi madre te compró un libro para tí. (My mother bought a book for you.)
  • Mi madre te compró un libro. (My mother bought you a book.)

Wouldn't only the 2nd translation for each sentence be correct as the one with the prepositional phrase is incorrect unless there was no i.o.p.?

And all of those intransitive, gustar-like sentences that use an i.o.p.:

Me gustan las manzanas. You would have to translate it as apples please me; not apples are pleasing to me. (even though you translate it as I like apples anyway)

Are all of these articles incorrect or does Spanish have a different definition of an indirect object than the one given in English grammar that excludes objects of prepositional phrases?

Is "di el anillo a ella " correct without an i.o.p. because the "a ella" is seen as a prepositional phrase rather than the clarifying phrase in "le di el anillo a ella"?

  • Oops. longer than I thought. What a blowhard! - 0074b507 Jun 3, 2010 flag

11 Answers

2 Vote

Frankly, I am a bit bewildered by the following assertion

I gave her the ring. Her is the indirect object of the first sentence.

I gave the ring to her. The second sentence has no i.o. Her is the object of a prepositional phrase.

My initial reaction to this claim was to reject it completely. In a nutshell, what I think is wrong with the author’s premise is that he seems to be confusing grammatical form with syntactic function, but rather than make this claim based on my own paltry understandings of the relationship of grammatical elements (in regards to the English language) I decided to research this a bit deeper, and from what I have found, I have to say that I now, even more so, reject the validity of this assertion.

This statement appears to ignore the entire concept of grammatical relations between the elements (sometimes referred to as arguments) which compose a sentence. That is, it ignores the manner in which various elements (noun phrases, etc) function in the sentence syntactically. In terms of morphology, the grammatical relations are often referred to as case. This term is especially relevant to heavily inflected languages, and the case which corresponds to the indirect object of a sentence is the dative case.

It should be noted, however, that English is a morphologically poor language in that, in terms of form, it lost most (if not all) major distinctions between the dative case (indirect object) and the accusative case (direct object) at least 500 years ago. Instead (of case marking), in current English usage, this syntactic function (of indirect object) is expressed analytically by positioning (i.e. word order) or by the use a prepositional phrase which uses the preposition “to” (or sometimes “for”).

The main thing is to recognize that the term “indirect object” is used in reference to its relationship to the other arguments which comprise a sentence. There are various ways to look at this relationship. One is to use the idea of thematic relations. Thematic relations are particular semantic terms that are used to describe the role that an argument plays with respect to the predicate. For the sake of clarity, here is a more thorough explanation of the more relevant semantic terms for this discussion

• Agent – The initiator or doer of an action

• Theme – Entities that undergo actions, are moved, experienced or perceived

• Goal – The entity towards which motion takes place (may also involve abstract motion)

• Recipient – A special kind of goal which only occurs with verbs that denote a change of possession

• Beneficiary – The one for whose benefit and event took place

The terms beneficiary, goal and recipient are the thematic arguments which relate to the idea of indirect object. Building on these ideas we can begin by analyzing the verb “give” which in this case is what is considered a “ditransitive verb.” That is to say that it requires three arguments: (1) A subject that acts as the agent (i.e. the giver); (2) a direct object, which represents the theme (the thing being given); (3) an indirect object, which represents the location or goal (the person to whom the theme is being given. For a ditransitive verb any variation from this (having too many, or too few arguments) results in ungrammaticality. For example:

I gave Jennifer the ring [using a noun phrase goal/I.O.]

I gave the ring to Jennifer [using a prepositional phrase as goal/I.O.]

1). Gave the ring to Jennifer. [lacks agent]

2). I gave to Jennifer. [lacks theme]

3). I gave the ring. [lacks goal/I.O.]

4). I gave the ring the rock to Jennifer. [has too many arguments]


Based on my own understanding and from what I have researched, I would also reject the following assertion:

In Spanish, unlike English, a noun can't be an indirect object; it must be used as prepositional pronoun.

The RAE appears to reject this assertion as well:

Complemento Indirecto - Nombre, pronombre, sintagma o proposición en función nominal, que completa el significado de un verbo transitivo o intransitivo, expresando el destinatario o beneficiario de la acción.

Moreover, the RAE definition seems to use similar semantic terms to define this relationship regarding the function of the indirect object of a sentence (i.e. destinatario – goal/recipient; beneficiario – beneficiary).

I hope that this helps (and hopefully it makes sense as I was pressed for time when writing this – I have a graduation to go to tonight)


Aside from some of the links already provided, here is a short list of some of the resources I used to investigate this theme:

• James, AW Heffernan and Lincoln, JE. (1982) Writing: A college Handbook

• Carnie, Andrew (2002). Syntax: A Generative Introduction

• Haspelmath, Martin (2002). Understanding Morphology

• Lobner, Sebastian (2002). Understanding Semantics

Webster’s New World Dictionary

• Givon, Talmy (2001) Syntax: An Introduction

gramática

DRAE de la lengua

pronombres personales átonos

1 Vote

Qfreed, I enjoy your post though I find it hard to read. Could you clean up the top a bit? hehe. Also, were the first three links all meant to go to the same page?

Bah, I went and read more about this and now I'm extremely confused.

This video says i.o.p's are not necessary with the prep phrases. Maybe it is just a Spain thing?

1 Vote

Thank you. I understand that IF there is an i.o. there must be an i.o.p. The question is, when is there an i.o.? What I am saying is that in English there is no i.o. if the recipient is in a prepositional phrase. The one Spanish article seems to agree with that. I want to know if the Spanish rule concerning the i.o. and prepositional phrases is the same as the English rule?

Now let me try to fix the links.

  • fixed the links to English grammar topics - 0074b507 Jun 3, 2010 flag
  • This is a great question, Q, but way beyond my knowledge to answer. - --Mariana-- Jun 3, 2010 flag
1 Vote

Izanoni1:

Thank you for the confirmation that there had to be something wrong with the English grammar site's premises. If not, then I was faced with two possibilities: 1) I had been reading incorrect examples of English sentences used to illustrate the Spanish grammar from day one or 2) Spanish's i.o. was different from English's i.o. As you say, I think the author made some errors, but when I saw it in two different sites and, then, when I read an article saying the same thing in Spanish, I began to wonder.

So how do you interpret that article's two sentences : Di el anillo a ella ( a ella-prepositonal phrase). and Le di el anillo a ella (a ella-clarification phrase). Both right? One right? Why?

In Spanish, unlike English, a noun can't be an indirect object; it must be used as prepositional pronoun.

I think all that the author is saying here is that this sentence is impossible in Spanish:

I gave Mary the ring. You cannot say: le di Maria el anillo.

IIn Spanish you have to say:

I gave the ring to Mary. Le di el anillo a María. or Le di a María el anillo.

You can see how this follows the English grammar site's premise and why he says unlike English (where the i.o. cannot be in a prepositional phrase). This confirmation of the English grammar site is why I became confused and thought it might be correct. It also provided a possible explanation of why other site's give you sentences like this one to show the i.o. in a Spanish sentence:

I gave the ring to her. (if the articles were correct there is no i.o. here IN ENGLISH., but they give this English example because SPANISH has to say "to her' and cannot say "I gave her the ring."

I'm getting a headache!

The whole purpose of the discussion was to prepare for a thread on the use of para xxx as either a prepositional phrase not requiring a i.o.p. and para xxx as an i.o. and requiring an i.o.p. as I have seem many example sentences using para xxx with or without the i.o.p, but I think I will forego it until I better understand the use of i.o. in Spanish and English.

Thanks again for your insight..

  • Look at that . There was my answer staring me in the face all along. Two simple words: unlike English. My second conclusion was the correct one. Spanish's i.o. is not the same as English's i.o. We can't put in in a prepositional phase and Spanish mu - 0074b507 Jun 4, 2010 flag
1 Vote

Frankly, I am a bit bewildered by the following assertion

I gave her the ring. Her is the indirect object of the first sentence.

I gave the ring to her. The second sentence has no i.o. Her is the object of a prepositional phrase.

Unfortunately, I am bewildered by your bewilderment...raspberry

Just to muddy the waters a bit, Izanoni, do you consider to her to be a prepositional phrase? If yes, then how can you say her is functioning grammatically as an indirect object. (I can see how conceptually or physically the person represented by her is, but I don't see it grammatically). How can it possibly serve as an object to a preposition AND as an indirect object to the verb simultaneously?

  • That question about whether "to her" is a prepostional phrase or a clarification tag (in Spanish) is what started all of this. - 0074b507 Jun 4, 2010 flag
1 Vote

The whole purpose of the discussion was to prepare for a thread on the use of para xxx as either a prepositional phrase not requiring a i.o.p. and para xxx as an i.o. and requiring an i.o.p. as I have seem many example sentences using para xxx with or without the i.o.p, but I think I will forgo it until I better understand the use of i.o. in Spanish.

I have had that thought, too, Q, because we equate IO with prepositional phrases beginning with to (a) or for (para). It was my understanding that only a required the obligatory IOP (I could be wrong). I thought that it would just not be done in Spanish based on some thread discussing the issue some time ago.

However, I would imagine people throw in an occasional IOP when using para because the "feel" or concept behind para and a could sometimes be similar...maybe?...perhaps? (just as it can be for our to and for?)

  • I have also read that the I.o.p. is only obligatory with ""a""; not para, but I wanted to discuss why that is. There are context where for XXX does not point to the recipient fo the verbs action. I wanted to discuss that. - 0074b507 Jun 4, 2010 flag
1 Vote

Look at that . There was my answer staring me in the face all along! Two simple words: unlike English. My second conclusion was the correct one. Spanish's i.o. is not the same as English's i.o. We can't put it in a prepositional phase and Spanish must put it in a prepositional phrase.

If it had been a snake... All of the these articles were correct and now I understand why the English examples given in Spanish grammar articles are not "technically" correct when they say to ... or para.... is the i.o. in the sentence. They must use that form to translate it properly into Spanish.

  • I agree, and I think were those articles to state the idea in more technically correct terms it would unnecessarily multiply the wordiness and make them less comprehensible. - webdunce Jun 4, 2010 flag
0 Vote

Quentin,

I had the same questions after reading your article above. I found an article that might clear things up. redundant object pronouns

  • You have to scroll down a bit. - Nicole-B Jun 3, 2010 flag
  • Although I am still a bit confused, so this might not even be what you are looking for. - Nicole-B Jun 3, 2010 flag
0 Vote

Nicole,

I didn't have to read beyond the first example sentence to see that the article wouldn't answer my question.

If you read the English grammar articles above, they definitely state that the i.o. cannot be in a prepositional phrase. (see below in red)

The very first sentence in that article has the i.o. in a prepositional phrase. That is why I said that I thought the English grammar articles were wrong, but the Spanish article seemed to support it. Other sites all over the place (like yours) seem to say differently. I want to know if Spanish agrees with those English rules.

Here in a nutshell is the English rule that I am talking about.

An indirect object is always a noun or pronoun which is not part of a prepositional phrase.

Therefore, any to xxx cannot be an i.o. according to this rule. I think that contradicts how Spanish translates English sentences.

  • All of this was leading up to a bigger question about clarifications tags vs prepositional phrases, but I guess I'll forego it If I can't make this comprehensible.. - 0074b507 Jun 3, 2010 flag
  • After I posted the answer and went back and reread your question, I had a feeling it would not be your answer. I'm still waiting for Izanoni to weigh in. He is the resident researcher here. - Nicole-B Jun 3, 2010 flag
0 Vote

Hi Webdunce

Just to muddy the waters a bit, Izanoni, do you consider to her to be a prepositional phrase? If yes, then how can you say her is functioning grammatically as an indirect object. (I can see how conceptually or physically the person represented by her is, but I don't see it grammatically). How can it possibly serve as an object to a preposition AND as an indirect object to the verb simultaneously?

The reason I say this is that the function of the indirect object in English is closely tied to the idea of grammatical case (in particular the dative case) in that the indirect object, by definition, is the argument which describes the location to which the action is directed - that is the recipient or beneficiary of an action (or to which the verb directs the action indirectly). In languages similar to English that have overt case marking indirect objects would be marked with dative case. It has also been suggested that for English the preposition "to" serves as a dative case marker.

It might help to remember that the object of a verb (whether indirect or direct) is simply a type of verb complement, that is to say, a word or phrase (not necessarily limited to just Noun Phrases) which acts to complete the sense of the verb. While I understand that in the prepositional construct, the word "her" acts as the object (complement) of the preposition, it is the entire prepositional phrase (PP) here which functions as the indirect object of the verb. If you have question about the ability of a PP to act as the object of a verb, consider the following sentences which use the ditransitive verb tell:

1). I told her my feelings

2). I told her about my feelings

3). I told my feelings to her.

The verb phrases of this sentence might be mapped out as follows:

1a). I [VPtold[NPher][NPmy feelings]]

2a). I [VPtold[NPher][PPabout my feelings]]

3a). I [VPtold[NPmy feelings][PPto her]]

In (1) the indirect object is placed directly after the verb and no prepositions are used. In (2) you still have a direct and indirect object, but now the direct object is marked by a PP. Finally, in (3) the direct object is placed next to the verb and the indirect object is marked by a PP. Each respective NP or PP, however, acts as a complement (indirect object/direct object) to the overall verb phrase.


It would be easy enough for me to cite numerous credible linguistic sources which would back-up this assertion that an IO in English can be placed after the DO when it is marked by the preposition "to" or "for"; however, I also recognize that there are many approaches to grammar, and there are quite a few equally credible linguistic theorists who contend that the prepositional construct represents what is called an "oblique object," and switching to a construction that employs a NP is what is referred to as a dative shift. While, I understand the reasoning behind this idea, I have also seen this argument radically extended by some to the extreme argument that indirect objects, as such, do not actually exist in English but all such constructs should be considered as oblique objects. I have also read certain authors contend that the prepositional construct represents an adjunct rather than a complement.

Neither of these arguments is satisfactory to me, and I prefer to consider the grammaticality of indirect objects in terms of their semantic function as a complement to the verb. I am not trying to sway your thinking on this manner in either way, as such a discussion would clearly be an extremely esoteric debate. In my handling of this subject, I have tried to avoid getting too bogged down in linguistic jargon, and hopefully I have avoided muddying the waters even further by dipping my toe into this subject. If you are so inclined to consider this subject further, an interesting (though brief) discussion of some of the various theories can be found in the following sources:

"Syntax in Functional Grammar: An Introduction to Lexicogrammar in Systemic Linguistics" (2000) Morely, David G. - provides an overall (though admittedly slanted) view of some of the arguments related to this theme. Chapter 10 in particular provides a nice summary, and the book is annotated so that you might pursue looking into the original sources of some of the various arguments if you are so inclined.

A discussion of the phenomenon of dative shifting in English

The iconicity of "dative shift" in English: Considerations from information flow in discourse." Thompson, Sandra A. Which can be found on page 155 in this book - Syntactic iconicity and linguistic freezes: the human dimension. (1995) Landsberg, Marge E.

The English dative alternation : The case for verb sensitivity (2008) J. Linguistics 44, 129–167.

0 Vote

(3) the direct object is placed next to the verb and the indirect object is marked by a PP

I like that approach of considering the PP to be a NP which can serve as an i.o., but the English grammar sites cited seemed to reject that reasoning.

They clearly state that the i.o. cannot be contained in a PP.

An indirect object is always a noun or pronoun which is not part of a prepositional phrase.

Notice in the first English grammar article it states how Latin used both methods for stating the i.o., the normal i.o. and the PP i.o., but he is contrasting how English does not.

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