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I would like to know which of these forms is more likely to be used?

  • He composed me a piece of music.
  • He composed a piece of music for me.

I have a feeling that the second form would lead to a better flow in the sentence, but the first one seems correct too. Are they equivalent?

Edit: After reading some of the answers, I would like to add that this is a 20 minutes piece for a solo instrument, written by a classically trained professional musician, who wrote it for another classically trained professional musician.

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    I suggest that you check out A Grammar Lesson: Direct and Indirect Objects — Grammarly Blog. Some verbs work with indirect objects ("He sent me a piece of music"), but others do not ("He composed me a piece of music"). As mentioned by @Old Brixtonian below, "to compose" only takes a direct object, not an indirect one, so the first form is incorrect. Jun 18, 2023 at 16:38

5 Answers 5

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The first is wrong. To compose takes only one object - a direct object. "Me" cannot be another object.

The second is correct. There is a direct object - "a piece of music" and "for me" (a prepositional phrase) which modifies "a piece of music" adjectivally.

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    The first, certainly in the UK, is perfectly acceptable idiom. "Matchmaker, matchmaker, Make me a match, Find me a find, Catch me a catch" might be pushing it a bit for poetic reasons, but that doesn't make it wrong. Jun 18, 2023 at 11:18
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    @DoneWithThis. I am from the UK. To make, find and catch are all ditransitive. You should also consider the status of cognate "objects", which are usually complements rather than objects.
    – user81561
    Jun 18, 2023 at 13:13
  • So strongly related as to approach being enlightening in this matter.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 13:59
  • @user81561 - if I understood a single word of what you said there, I might agree. Jun 18, 2023 at 14:18
  • @tchrist The linked page is not available.
    – user81561
    Jun 18, 2023 at 15:44
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It seems to me less formal to speak of writing a piece of music. (The composers I know [in the UK] rarely say they're composing a piece for fear of sounding precious.) And we can certainly say, "He wrote me a piece of music": just as we say, "He wrote me a poem".

This Ngram compares the usage of "wrote him a song" with that of "wrote a song for him".

Saying someone wrote/composed a piece of music for you (or wrote/composed you a piece of music) suggests that you are expected to sing or play it. If that's not the case you might say he dedicated a piece of music to you.

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    Be careful: write is a Germanic verb, compose, a Latinate one. You cannot therefore draw any conclusions about the acceptability of dative or benefactive alternation in the case of a Latinate verb by observing its acceptability in a Germanic verb. There is a fairly large body of scholarly investigation into these matters, with interesting hypotheses based on corporal evidence. This is just the tip of surprisingly large iceberg.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 14:06
  • I should add that it is a 20 minutes piece for a solo instrument written by a classically trained composer, who wrote it for a classically trained professional musician. Jun 18, 2023 at 23:48
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The form “composed him a ....” is practically never used, and does not sound idiomatic to me. When I tried to search on Google Ngrams, none of, “Bach composed him,” “Mozart composed him,” or “Beethoven composed him” were in the corpus at all.

This is different from the less-formal word wrote. The Ngram “wrote her a song” is between a half and two-thirds as common as “wrote a song for her.”

Some examples of standard usage:

Google has no hits for "Mozart composed Walsegg", "Mozart composed Count Walsegg", "Mozart composed Franz von Walsegg", "Mozart composed Count Franz von Walsegg", or any other variation I tried.

By far the most common way of phrasing it on the Web is “The eccentric count Franz von Walsegg commissioned the Requiem from Mozart anonymously through intermediaries,” but that is only because of copying from Wikipedia.

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[Verb] me [noun] is perfectly acceptable idiom. It's less formal than [verb] [noun] for me but both are equally valid.

I would venture to say that the first is considerably more common than the second, especially if we don't restrict it to something as formal as music composition, which I think would skew the results.

Will you make me dinner? I'll make you dinner if you fetch me a pan.

See this Ngram for "make me dinner vs make dinner for me" Make me dinner wins by a huge margin. The same difference can be seen even in separate British and US English Ngrams.

Again for "fetch me a chair vs fetch a chair for me" which shows a huge swing in usage from the 19th century to modern day.

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  • The "me" in this context is an indirect object. Just like there are verbs which do not take a direct object, there are verbs which don't take indirect objects. Just because "He threw the ball at me" can be reworded as "He threw me the ball" doesn't mean that "He stared daggers at me" can be reworded as "He stared me daggers". That fact that "make" and "fetch" can take an indirect object doesn't mean that "compose" can.
    – R.M.
    Jun 19, 2023 at 3:18
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Both forms are grammatically okay, but the second form is much more common, especially for the verb "compose". The first form sounds to emphasize the beneficiary.

Being a musician, I also agree with @OldBrixtonian that "write me" instead of "composed me" is more natural. The word "compose" implies formality, as testified by page 276 of this book excerpt:

In the month of July, 1765, the Mozart family returned to Calais, from whence they continued their journey through Flanders, where the young artist often played the organs of the monasteries, and cathedral churches. At the Hague, the two children had an illness which endangered their lives, and from which they were four months in recovering. Wolfgang composed six sonatas for the piano-forte during his convalescence, which he dedicated to the princess of Nassau-Weilbour. In the beginning of the year 1766, they passed a month at Amsterdam, from whence they repaired to the Hague, to be present at the installation of the prince of Orange. Mozart composed for this solemnity a quodlibet for all the instruments, and also different airs and variations for the princess.

Note also how the placement of "for the princess" and "for this solemnity" is to facilitate the flow of thought within the paragraph.

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  • The first doesn't need any correction. It's fine exactly as it is. Jun 18, 2023 at 11:22
  • @DoneWithThis. Thanks, answer edited. Jun 18, 2023 at 13:52
  • @DoneWithThis. Pray consider this linguistic evidence.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 13:59
  • @tchrist - It won't let me view it, whatever it is. Jun 18, 2023 at 14:11
  • @DoneWithThis. My apologies: see screen shots one and two to whet your appetite.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 14:17

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