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Is it correct sentence below? And what does it mean? Also, how is it working grammatically?

I made him a cake.

  1. I made a cake for him.
  2. I baked a cake using him. (Sounds so horrible!)

To me, 1 is more natural but I am not sure. I've never seen that kind of sentence before. Is "I made him a cake" a common sentence used by native speakers?

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    Any other fans of The IT Crowd instantly think of a certain German who wishes to cook "with" Moss? – dwizum Jan 7 at 19:35
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    For #2, it would be more natural to say "I made him INTO a cake." Though that would not work very well: a roast or a stew, sure, but cake? Further discussion should go to the Cooking site :-) – jamesqf Jan 7 at 20:00
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    If "I made him a cake" was spoken by Endora (from the Bewitched TV show), the phrase could literally mean she magically turned him into a cake. But in the real, non-magic, world, people are generally understood to NOT be baked goods or ingredients. – geneSummons Jan 7 at 22:19
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    @dwizum or of The Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man" (spoiler alert: "It's a Cookbook!!!") – geneSummons Jan 7 at 23:42
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    #2 is a dad joke and it's more common than any of us want it to be. – Mazura Jan 8 at 1:37
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Your interpretation 1 is correct - I made him a cake means the same as I made a cake for him. This is indeed a common construction in English, and would generally be understood.

There is a subtle difference between I made him a cake and I made a cake for him, though. I made him a cake would indicate that you are making a cake that you will give to him. I made a cake for him could indicate the same, or it could mean that you made a cake on his behalf.

Your second interpretation - I baked a cake using him - would probably be phrased as I made him into a cake

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    Though it bears mentioning that "I made him a cake" could have the same meaning as "I made him into a cake", if someone wanted to hide their cannibalism while still being truthful for example. – EldritchWarlord Jan 7 at 16:09
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    It reminds me of that old joke: Did you hear about the magic tractor? It went down the lane and turned into a field. – JonM Jan 7 at 16:33
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    Don't ask a witch to make you a cake. – Barmar Jan 7 at 16:59
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    Reminds me of the early days of Siri when it was truly useless: "Hey Siri, call me an ambulance!" "OK, from now on I will call you 'An Ambulance'". – Muzer Jan 7 at 17:05
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    And of course, "The Dalai Lama walks up to a hot dog cart and says 'Make me one with everything'" – MikeTheLiar Jan 7 at 20:11
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In English, you will commonly encounter sentences of the form: Subject - Verb - Indirect Object - Direct Object, where the direct object (cake/warning/present) describes "on what" the verb is acting and the indirect object (him) provides a second target, often describing "for what" or "to what" the verb is doing to the direct object.

Examples:

  • I - made - him - a cake
  • I - gave - him - a present
  • I - told - him - a story

You may be confused because there are many meanings for "make". Going by the definitions at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/make:

  • make (3) - to bring into being by forming, shaping, or altering material. Example: I made a cake
  • make (9) - to cause to be or become. Example: I made her happy.

So both the interpretations "I made(3) him a cake" (I made a cake, for him) and "I made(9) him a cake" (I transformed him into a cake) are grammatically correct, but you would use your understanding of the context to know that in most cases the speaker meant made(3) and not made(9).

To add another example, consider the similar phrase "I'm going to make you a star." Usually you would take that to mean "I will cause you to become a success" but it is not unlikely that "I will cut a star out of paper and hand it to you"

  • Is "I made a cake for him" better English? If yes, both in formal and spoken communication? Is skipping words like "for" a trend in English to shorten sentences(perhaps caused by rapid urbanization. Where one has to just communicate essentials using minimal words because of lack of time). Example, I grew up learning "He broke his leg" would suggest he was at least partially responsible of his broken leg as opposed to "He leg got broken". – qqqqq Jan 7 at 21:10
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    @qqqqq: My impression is that “I made him a cake” and “I made a cake for him” would both be common, idiomatic English, in both formal and casual contexts. (I suspect I'd be a little more likely to say the former, simply because it's slightly shorter and simpler.) The construction is at least two centuries old, possibly much more; it's certainly not a recent trend. – gidds Jan 7 at 21:42
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    I'd say "made him a cake" is a natural idiom in English, though one might say "baked" instead of "made". Compare this line from a popular children's rhyme: "Bake me a cake as fast as you can." I agree the meaning would be make(3) in this context, though it also could be a play on words, in which case both the meanings make(3) and make(9) would apply. – David K Jan 8 at 17:08
  • @qqqqq There is a typo. Someone please replace ""He leg got broken" by ""His leg got broken". I am not allowed to edit it. – qqqqq Jan 8 at 18:35
  • @DavidK unfortunately it's always a play on words ;o) – Will Crawford Jan 9 at 3:50
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Some verbs, (known as ditransitive) have both a direct and an indirect object, which can be expressed either way round; but if the direct object comes first, the indirect requires its preposition "to":

I gave the book to him = I gave him the book.

In addition any verb which does not normally take an indirect object can have a benefactive complement introduced by "for", and in many cases this benefactive can come before the direct object in exactly the same way as for ditransitive verbs.

Examples:

I made/baked him a cake = I made/baked a cake for him.

He bought me a book = He bought a book for me.

Keep me a seat! = Keep a seat for me.

I cut her a slice [of cake] = I cut a slice [of cake] for her.

I think there is a semantic restriction that the beneficiary is going to have, or use, or enjoy the result of the action, not just the action happening. So

Wash me a cup = Wash a cup for me (that I can use).

but I don't think I would say

?Wash me the laundry

even though I might say "Wash the laundry for me".

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