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

Are the two sentences above the same? I wonder whether there are some nuances differentiating these two scenarios.

  • 1
    They're grammatically and semantically equivalent, but typically, I say or hear the first when the book has already been received (eg he bought me a book and I enjoyed reading it) and the second when the book has been purchased but the ownership has not been transferred (eg he bought a book for me because my birthday is next week, but it's supposed to be a surprise). Commented May 22, 2014 at 0:51

3 Answers 3


Either of these sentences may bear two meanings.

  1. He purchased a book with the intention (which may or many not have been fulfilled at speech time) of giving it to me. Me is the Indirect Object of buy, exactly as it is in “He gave me a book” or “He gave a book to me”.

    This option between two methods of expressing the Indirect Object is called the ‘dative alternation’, and there has been a great deal of discussion among linguists about what determines which is employed. This paper gives a account of some factors which have been identified and a detailed statistical examination of their influence.

  2. He purchased the book on my behalf—that is, he performed the purchase when it was impossible or inconvenient for me to do so.

Ordinarily He bought me a book will be understood to have meaning 1, while He bought a book for me may be understood in either sense, with the context determining which is more likely. For instance, if me was a child and he the child’s father, meaning 1 is more likely; but in a context like “James was very helpful; he bought a book for me while he was in London”, meaning 2 is more likely.

But these distinctions are not hard-and-fast; both constructions may be used in either sense.


Semantically, they are the same. Ultimately, you got a book that he purchased for you.

You take these sentences in any way, if we apply basic grammar rules, they come out with the same meaning.

He brought me a book or He bought a book for me.

Basic rules:

A subject is 'do-er' or 'be-er' of the sentence. Hence, who is performing an action? - HE

A simple predicate does the rest of the work and consists of only verb/verb string or compound verb - BROUGHT

A direct object is the receiver of action within a sentence - BOOK

An indirect object identifies to or for whom or what the action of the verb is performed - ME i.e. YOU.

For more examples of the structure Subject-verb-indirect object-direct object, check here.

  • 1
    I think it's unusual to say that a predicate consists of only just the verb (or verb string or compound verb, according to your text). Most, if not all, of my grammar books, refer to everything after the subject of a sentence as a predicate. And that is still a very loose definition. Commented May 21, 2014 at 14:52
  • Shouldn't predicate be bought me a book. or bought a book for me.?
    – Sandeep D
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 4:44
  • @SandeepDhamija that makes it a complete predicate.
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 4:52
  • Thanks :) I didn't know predicate could be further classified.
    – Sandeep D
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 5:05
  • Oh yeah! simple predicate and complete predicate. :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 22, 2014 at 6:17

He bought me a book. and He bought a book for me. are NOT semantically the same.

The reason is that 'for' can have multiple meanings, including "instead of, in place of".

For example, She was too sick, so I washed the car for her.

Similarly, you can imagine the following conversation:

-- Amy: I was a bit surprised, but John bought a book for me.

-- Billy: What do you mean?

-- Amy: I was running late, and there were only two copies left of the textbook I needed. I called John, who was already at the store, and he agreed to wait in line to buy it, even though he usually never helps me out like that.

It would be incorrect in this situation to say that John bought me a book since the situation suggests that John will be paid back for the book; in other words, John bought the book in place of Amy, not as a gift for Amy.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .