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Advanced Grammar in Use by Hewings states that verbs that can't be followed by [Indirect Object + Direct Object] in the active have only one of these passive forms:

V + DO + prep + IO

For example:

[Active]

  • He explained me the problem x

  • He explained the problem to me. v

[Passive]

  • I was explained the problem x

  • The problem was explained to me. v

The author usually put brackets around optional words/phrases (he puts the brackets around to when giving the examples for verbs that can be followed by IO+DO). However, he didn't put anything around to. So, is it incorrect to say:

The problem was explained me.

Compare with the example given by the author when the verb can be followed by IO + DO:

That vase was given us. (The active form is: Alice gave that vase to us)

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The distinction here is between monotransitive (one object) and ditransitive (two object) verbs.

The problem was explained me. ✗
He explained me the problem. ✗

“to explain” is a monotransitive verb, which means you must always use a preposition to add a second object. It doesn’t matter whether you are using active or passive voice.

The problem was explained to me. ✓
He explained the problem to me. ✓

Compare with a ditransitive verb, which doesn’t need a preposition as long as the two objects are in the correct order:

She gave us the vase. ✓
She gave the vase to us. ✓
She gave the vase us. ✗
We were given the vase. ✓
The vase was given to us. ✓
The vase was given us. ✗

The last case above doesn’t work (despite what your book says) because the DO has become the subject, and you can’t have an IO alone. You can fix this by making the IO the subject instead:

We were given the vase. ✓

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  • The problem with the last sentence ("The vase was given us") is that you are using an IO ("us") without a DO, which is generally not allowed. (Cf. "We were given the vase." which has a similar structure but the object ("the vase") is a DO, so it's fine.) Nov 23, 2021 at 17:42
  • @MarcInManhattan The problem I have is that the DO “vase” is actually the S here, so you can’t use a bare IO after the V. I know what is intended in this specific case, but there could be other combinations of V/IO/DO where it could lead to a valid alternate meaning.
    – StephenS
    Nov 23, 2021 at 18:18
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    I think that this sentence is much easier to analyze if you consider "the vase" to be its subject and not an object at all. Then you can maintain the general rules that a word/phrase can't function simultaneously as both subject and object and that an IO can't appear without a DO. And then it's straightforward to see that this sentence is ungrammatical. Nov 24, 2021 at 0:40
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    @MarcInManhattan That solved it; thanks! I usually prefer the no-subject analysis of passive voice, but it didn’t work here.
    – StephenS
    Nov 24, 2021 at 1:27

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