Is there any difference between these two sentences:

  1. He explained to her what he meant.
  2. He explained what he meant to her.

I feel 'what he meant' should be treated as the direct object and 'to her' as the indirect object, thus the latter one should be correct and the first one incorrect?

Or maybe the latter is correct because you explain SOMETHING to SOMEBODY and not the other way around? I have a feeling the latter one is correct but I just need a confirmation, possibly with an explanation, Please.

Also, in this sentence:

  1. We had some great scenes in the series with Elizabeth.

Would it be possible to change the place of the adjunct( that is 'with Elizabeth', I believe it's an adjunct) and say:

  1. We had some great scenes WITH ELIZABETH in the series

Is the place of the adjunct fluid and does it depend solely on the speaker where to use it? Is there a general rule?

  • Both of the first two are grammatically correct, and you might hear either, but He explained what he meant to her could be interpreted as He explained to her the significance of himself in her life. Aug 16, 2016 at 1:48
  • Thank you, is there any rule I can stick to when writing such sentences? I feel, although I can't say I'm sure, that 'to her' is an adjunct, hence it'd be up to me where to place it in a sentence? Is that the case? Its place in a sentence seems very fluid and I have indeed came across both of them.
    – Carol
    Aug 16, 2016 at 2:00
  • Here, a "rule" is actually that explain should not take an indirect object that immediately follows it. Yet when that "rule" is followed, the sentence is ambiguous! (He explained what he meant to her.) I've upvoted the question in the hope of attracting someone with more insight, such as @StoneyB because this is a puzzler. Aug 16, 2016 at 2:26
  • That's exactly what I thought that it shouldn't be immediately followed by an indirect object and this is what I've been taught time after time but at the same time it not being followed by an indirect object leaves room for interpretation and that's why I'm a little bit confused. Thank you for upvoting the question and thank you for your input, it's very helpful.
    – Carol
    Aug 16, 2016 at 2:36
  • I hope you don't mind, but I've created a new question that directly addresses only this rule and seeming contradiction. Perhaps between the two of them, we'll gain some insight. Aug 16, 2016 at 3:13

1 Answer 1


In both your examples, the meaning of the sentences is the same, however the emphasis is placed differently

He explained to her what he meant.

the emphasis is on his explanation to her, whereas in

He explained what he meant to her.

The emphasis is on explaining what he meant.

The same goes for your second set of examples.
The first emphasises that "he had great scenes in the series", the second that "he had great scenes with Elizabeth".

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