I hope you are all doing well,

As I was reading through CGEL, I found out that an indirect object cannot be relativised. The examples were as follows:

a. He showed a student the exam paper. [indirect object]

b.∗The student [whom he showed the exam paper] informed the police.

Can someone please elaborate on this because the b example sounds just fine to my nonsensical non-native ear :D


  • 1
    Could you give us a page number, please? (And also confirm that you mean The Cambridge Grammar .... and not A Comprehensive Grammar!) Jul 25, 2023 at 6:02
  • It's the Cambridge Grammar On page 1044. @Araucaria-Nothereanymore.
    – AN24
    Jul 26, 2023 at 2:20

2 Answers 2


In my 19 years of teaching English, I've never heard of such a rule, and to my Canadian ear, your (b) sentence is correct and natural.

To avoid the always awkward pronoun "whom", I'll change the context, but not the underlying grammar:

Joe gives the wall a coat of paint every year.
The wall [which he gives a coat of paint every year] is in need of repair.
Joe also regularly repairs the wall [which he gives a coat of paint every year].

There are more natural ways of expressing this, but the grammar is fine.

  • 1
    That turned into a more interesting discussion than I thought it would be 😅.
    – AN24
    Jul 26, 2023 at 2:17
  • 1
    H&P's generalisation does not apply to idioms and light verbs. Your give a wall coat of paint is one or the other or both (can't quite tell which). In give X a coat of paint, the idiom does not show the normal dative alternation: "give X a book" and "give a book to X" / "give X a coat of paint" but NOT "*give a coat of paint to X". H&P's point is with IO's we need to use the preposition variant: "the student he showed the book to ate a sandwich" [in which case, the 'the student' is actually just a DO, not an IO]. This, as we have seen, does not apply to your example. Jul 26, 2023 at 8:28
  • 1
    @AbdelrhmanNoureldeen No, the RC there is understood like this: "The student he showed a book to [the student] ate a sandwich." The non RC version is "He showed a book to the student" Jul 26, 2023 at 11:51
  • 1
    As to your actual question which asks WHY the "rule" exists, I say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Such is grammar. But, that's not worth creating a new answer for, obviously.
    – BadZen
    Jul 27, 2023 at 3:36
  • 1
    @AbdelrhmanNoureldeen We have disagreement on that point, even among the native speakers here.
    – gotube
    Jul 29, 2023 at 22:39

Looking through COCA, relative clauses with "give" and "show" relativizing the (prepositionless) indirect object are rare, but do occur, especially in speech:


  • We spoke to the one man who we showed the video
  • the fellow who they gave 100 years in the commission case
  • She kept asking why her Western educated, Lebanese, Christian, civilized, modern daughter' -and she used all these adjectives -- who they gave the privilege of having a Western education-wanted to go back and smoke an argilah which is a backwards, dirty, horrible, uncivilized Muslim habit.


  • smart people who we gave the freedom to solve difficult problems


  • Castillo then dropped in on his old guidance counselor, Teresa Snyder, whom he showed pictures of himself strolling through palaces


  • You are supporting Islamic terrorists of the friends of Obama, Muslim Brotherhood, whom he gave money for their war

More commonly, "to" is used, e.g. "Bertha Palmer, to whom he gave the downtown Palmer House Hilton as a wedding gift" or "My son, who I gave bone marrow to".

To my ear (as an AmE speaker), "The student [whom he showed the exam paper] informed the police." doesn't sound outright ungrammatical. So I suspect it is a matter of variation.

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