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Should I write "I opened him the door." after I had made him open the door? (In that situation I had shouted to him to open the door.)

Really the verb 'open' is inadequate in that sentence, or is just less common using 'open' as that meaning?

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  • Nope. We would say "I opened the door for him."
    – Robusto
    Feb 9, 2017 at 1:37
  • @Robusto - But that's not exactly what the OP means, I think. The OP says "I made him open the door" so it would be "He opened the door for me."
    – stangdon
    Feb 9, 2017 at 1:41
  • You "could" write that, but it would be wrong. My point is that you shouldn't use could/can in your title. Words that would indicate approval, like "Should I ..." or "Is it correct to..." or such would be better.
    – user3169
    Feb 9, 2017 at 1:57
  • @stangdon: Words either mean something or they don't. There are no other words in evidence, so I responded to these.
    – Robusto
    Feb 9, 2017 at 2:25

5 Answers 5

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No. First of all, if we compare with similar grammar like:

I gave him a spoon

I drove him home

I baked him a cake

then the analogous situation would be if I opened the door for him, and not if he opened the door for me.

But, either way, it doesn't work. The general rule seems to be that you can only use this grammar structure if the other person ends up owning the object. Since "he" doesn't end up owning "the door" we would instead say:

I opened the door for him

I made him open the door for me

More information: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/90530/whats-wrong-with-ill-open-you-the-door

Note: I don't find this explanation entirely convincing. In the above example "I made him" we can say now he owns the task that I made him do, but it's a logical stretch.

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  • "I opened the door for him" - But that's not exactly what the OP means, I think. The OP says "I made him open the door" so it would be "He opened the door for me."
    – stangdon
    Feb 9, 2017 at 1:42
  • "I walk the horse the street." is grammatical sentence, but why "I open him the door." is ungrammatical?
    – GKK
    Feb 9, 2017 at 4:17
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    I walk the horse the street is not grammatical. Or if it is, I don't know what it means. Feb 9, 2017 at 5:38
  • However, I walk him to school, I walk the horse down the street and I walk him home are, so the question is still pertinent.
    – Some_Guy
    Mar 21, 2017 at 13:53
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No, you can't use open that way, for two reasons. Firstly, because if you say "I opened" it means that you are the one performing the action of opening (but that's not what you want to say, right?) Secondly, because open is not ditransitive. Open takes only a direct object, which is the thing you are opening.

I opened the door

is fine.

I opened him

means that you opened him as though he were a door.

I opened him the door

just doesn't make any sense.

If you mean that you caused him to open the door, you have to say something like

I had him open the door

or

I made him open the door

or maybe

He opened the door for me

Some other verbs, like give or build can be used in a ditransitive way (like "I gave him the key") but not open, and even then if you begin a sentence "I verbed", it means that you are the one performing the action.

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  • "I walk the horse the street." is grammatical sentence, but why "I open him the door." is ungrammatical?
    – GKK
    Feb 9, 2017 at 4:15
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    I walk the horse the street is not grammatical in my experience of being a native speaker of American English. Feb 9, 2017 at 5:36
  • see my answer on an old from that allows an indirect object for "open" such as "She opened to him" and "I opened to his knocking" Aug 27, 2021 at 23:28
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The sentence you want is :

I had him open the door.
or
I had him open the door for me.

The passive form is as follows (although you would be very unlikely to use it in this context):

I had the door opened.

Have someone do something is similar to make someone do something but make sounds very forceful.

You can also say "get" which is less formal, but this requires the to infinitive

I got him to open the door for me.

This is an example of the causitive, a great explanation on this subject is found here, covering causitive get, let, make, and have. Sometimes help is also included on the list as in I help him (to) carry the boxes


Of course, you can also say:

He opened the door for me.


Further details, based on your comments:

Verbs that can take direct objects are called transitive verbs (you may wish to google "transitive and intransitive verbs"

In your comments you gave the example I walk the horse the street. This is incorrect, as it should be I walk the horse down the street. I will take a different example

I walk him home

If you can say I walk him home then why not I open him the door?

This is because the word walk has 2 definitions

  • intransitive to go on foot
    example: I walk to the cinema

  • transitive to lead [someone] somewhere
    example: I walked my brother to the cinema

The word open does not have a definition meaning to make [someone] open, and so it cannot be used this way.

Many verbs in English have both transitive and intransitive definitions.

Sometimes they are the same or similar meaning, like with walk. Sometimes they are completely different:

I set the pen on the table

The sun will set at 8 p.m.

Sometimes they mean "make someone else do something", for example stop, however this is rare:

He stopped talking

He stopped her talking ( = he made her stop talking)

This does not apply to all verbs, in most cases we must use the causative.


Bonus information

In fact, in some dialects of English I open him the door informally means I opened the door for him (not what you mean).

In my dialect of English I might say to a friend

Could you open me that door please?

which would mean

Could you open that door for me please.

However, this is informal and regional.

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There is a now out of date construction in which the verb "open" can take an indirect object, this allows sentences such as:

I opened to him.

meaning more or less the same thing as

I let him in.

I have seen this with two and only two specific meanings:

  1. I opened the door and let him in.
  2. I allowed him sexual access.

I have only encountered this usage in

  1. Certain translations of the New Testament, particularly Mathew: "Knock and it shall be opened to you".
  2. Classic ballads from the 1700s and early 1800s.
  3. Historical fiction set in the 1700s and early 1800s, using the style of that period for dialog.

Category 2 often puns on the door/sex meanings.

I advise against using this form unless one is imitating one of these. In any case, it does not fit what the OP seems to want to write.

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Alan Bennett uses this construction in The Uncommon Reader:

A servant opened them the door (talking about the Queen's dogs enter the house - being admitted to the house by a servant).

(I am reposting with additional context to clarify that my original comment, which was deleted, is, in fact, relevant to the current discussion.)

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  • Please add further details to expand on your answer, such as working code or documentation citations.
    – Community Bot
    Aug 28, 2021 at 20:38
  • 1
    Hello Community. I appreceiate your spirit, but this comment seems odd in ELL, Perhaps it would make sense on Stackoverflow. But I suggest you don't add requests for "code" here.
    – James K
    Aug 28, 2021 at 20:56
  • This construction is maybe acceptable, since it’s just omitting the ‘to’ and switching the order — ‘a servant opened the door to them’. However, it isn’t an answer to the question, since it doesn’t mean that the servant made them open the door. Aug 28, 2021 at 22:50
  • It is true that my example is not the same as the OP question, but it is an example of what many other commenters are talking about: the use of the indirect object before the direct object in ditransitive verbs such as give, mail, send, etc. Apparently, in some UK dialects, this word order is acceptable.
    – NancyO
    Aug 30, 2021 at 18:32

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