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What is the rule which explains the next differences:

  • I offer (without "to") somebody to do something
  • I promise (without "to") somebody to do something

Yet, we'll say:

  • I'm talking to you

Where can I check the list of verbs which call for "to" and which don't?

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  • It isn't quite as simple as that. You offer [a thing, or a service] to [a person], so we wouldn't usually say 'I offer somebody'. If we did, it would be a quirky way of saying that you were ordering your employee, or perhaps your child, to go and help someone. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:18
  • @KateBunting - Kate, I've seen a range of usage like "I offer you a chance (or something else). Isn't it ok?
    – user127880
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:25
  • Yes, you're right - but we don't say I offer you to [do something]. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:42
  • @KateBunting - Yeas, okay, I've got it. But how is it possible to understand all these details? I mean, is there any something holistic as a rule which will be able to explain me all cases when we either have to write "to" or when we don't have to?
    – user127880
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:50
  • I'm afraid it's just something you pick up as you become more familiar with English. There isn't any fixed rule. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 15:54

1 Answer 1

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To is a really common helper word that pops up in a lot of situations, so unfortunately you're not going to find a list of where it gets used and with all the words involved (and it probably wouldn't be very helpful if it did exist!)

Your first examples... are complicated. You're basically talking about a verb with a direct and an indirect object:

I gave(VERB) her(IO) the card(DO)

The direct object is what is being given, what the verb is acting on. The indirect object is who it is being given to.

Generally the indirect object comes first. If it comes after the direct object, then you might have to add to or for:

I gave(VERB) the card(DO) to her(IO)


Sometimes the direct object of the verb is a verb infinitive, in the form *to + infinitive which is why to pops up there:

I promised to call

but you don't use this form when there's an indirect object (which is why I said your examples were complicated!)

I promised him to call - wrong

I promised him I would call - right

and I promised to call him isn't the indirect object either, it's part of the direct object to call him. You could be making that promise to someone else.

I know this is all pretty complicated - and this is an explanation of one aspect of grammar where to pops up. Imagine having a list of all the other places without context! You just have to learn the patterns, I'm afraid.

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  • A few errors, I'm afraid: (1) In "I gave the card to her", "to her" is not an indirect object since PPs can't function as indirect objects. "Her" is complement of "to", not of "gave". (2) Infinitivals cannot be objects, only noun phrases can. In "I promised to call", the infinitival clause "to call" is complement, not object, of "promised". (3) I don't know why you say that "I promised him to call" is wrong. It's not; it's fine. "Him" is direct object of "promised" and the the infinitival "to call" is complement of "promised". Compare this attested example "Liz promised me to phone at six".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 18:48
  • Honestly Liz promised me to phone at six sounds completely strange to me - I checked the Ngrams site and it's much lower for British English, which might be why. And I wasn't sure about the way to phrase the way that promise is functioning in this example, the one I gave reflects the example in Practical English Usage outlining the VERB + IO + DO word order. Feel free to change it if you feel it's inaccurate. But I don't understand why you say her isn't a direct object - I gave thing to someone is the canonical example of direct and indirect objects Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 18:52
  • Is that a typo? Did you mean to say "I don't understand why you say her isn't an indirect object"?
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 6:54
  • Yeah sorry, I meant indirect. It's a standard example of the use of an indirect object. Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 16:41
  • Objects, both Od and Oi, are complements of the verb, but "her" is complement of the prep "to", not of the verb "gave".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 9, 2021 at 17:10

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