9

I always say sentences like "Reply him that you will deliver the report later". A friend of mine who is rather particular about English grammar says it should be "Reply to him that [...]". Is this variation correct? Is my usage wrong, or just as acceptable?

I feel that it's unnecessary to have that 'to' there and only serves to break the natural flow of speaking without adding anything extra, if you know what I mean. Besides, you do not say "Tell to him" but you say "Tell him". But interestingly you say "Speak to him" or "Talk to him".

Similarly:

  • Reply her or Reply to her
  • Reply his email or Reply to his email

PS: I can't find any answer to this by searching on Google or this site.

  • 1
    It's an interesting question, in that I'd say answer her, but reply to her. At least you know what those notations of <tr> & <intr> mean now. – J.R. Jun 11 '13 at 23:54
  • "Reply him" or "Reply her" are dead giveaways to my ear that the speaker / writer is non-native. (in case that idiom is not familiar, "dead giveaway" means "something that reveals a fact or an intention completely." but I don't know its origin) – TecBrat Jun 12 '13 at 4:25
  • What about "give him" vs. "give to him"? – Graduate Jun 13 '13 at 14:25
  • I suppose the usage of give depends on context, since it can be transitive (for some meanings of the verb) or intransitive (for other meanings). – ADTC Jun 14 '13 at 6:18
10

Your friend is correct. "Reply" is typically an intransitive verb, which means it does not take a direct object. "Tell", by contrast, is a transitive verb, which does take a direct object. So:

Please reply him. (Incorrect)

Please reply to him. (Correct)

Please tell him. (Correct)

It doesn't matter whether the subject is a person you're replying to or an email you're replying about - the rule is the same.

Please reply his email. (Incorrect)

Please reply to his email. (Correct)

M-W Dictionary shows that you can also use "reply" as a transitive verb, but that's a more specialized use such as you would see in dialogue:

"I'd like some water please," she replied.

  • Oh my. The technical term for this is intransitive verb. A phrasal verb is something else entirely, like "give up" or "sign in". −1 for that. – ЯegDwight Jun 9 '13 at 14:53
  • What if the object is the person to whom the reply should be sent to? Would that be 'Please reply to him' and not 'Please reply him'? – ADTC Jun 9 '13 at 17:42
  • @ЯegDwight A simple mistake, and you rated -1 for the whole answer. Now he or she isn't on SE anymore to reply to my comment. I think Lynn tried their best, and I think that deserves some appreciation. [PS: Where did the other -1 come from?] – ADTC Jun 11 '13 at 10:40
  • @ЯegDwight - Ooops, you're right - I'm a dummy. Serves me right for blindly copying/pasting from an ESL site that listed "talk to" as a phrasal verb. – Lynn Jun 11 '13 at 17:02
  • 1
    @ADTC - Yeah, I can understand the confusion. Perhaps a linguist could explain why reply is usually intransitive but tell is usually transitive. I can only offer an unsatisfying "because that's how it is". I can hit something, break something, fix something, tell something, or drive something, but I can't reply something (other than that exception about a quote). The "rules" have evolved, influenced by stuff in other languages, and don't always make logical sense. – Lynn Jun 13 '13 at 6:27
3

Native speakers never omit the preposition between reply and [recipient]. From Google Books...

[We haven't] replied to him yet (868 hits)
[We haven't] replied him yet (2 hits - but actually they're probably duplicates anyway)

Looking more closely at the second instance(s), I think there's strong evidence to suggest the writer isn't even a native speaker of English anyway.


In such contexts, reply (as with similar words such as respond, react) normally requires the preposition to if a recipient is explicitly specified - unlike, say, answer or tell, which don't normally have a preposition between verb and patient (patient = object of an action = the person replied to).

Another common "object" of the verb reply is the noun "reply" (the text of the reply itself). That's to say...

"This is the answer" replied John.
which could be resequenced as
John replied "This is the answer".

is what's called "transitive" usage. The conventional definition of a transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects, but I'm not sure that's particularly helpful here. It makes more sense to me to say...

The verb reply can either be used intransitively (i.e. - with no "object"), or with one or both of two types of object - the response itself (no preposition) and/or the person addressed (preceded by to).

  • I never said I'm a native speaker of English. You could have been less condescending in your answer... Drop the emotions and it would be a good answer. – ADTC Jun 12 '13 at 9:20
  • Btw, thanks. I never ever heard of a grammatical patient :) I have only learnt it as verb and object, not verb and patient. That's nice to know. – ADTC Jun 12 '13 at 9:46
  • @ADTC: I assumed you weren't a native speaker, actually, otherwise I didn't see how you'd be unaware a standard usage which is more strictly observed than many. But I didn't mean to be condescending to you personally, just the usage. Whatever - I'll edit the first sentence in a minute. I don't know when linguists started using patient (I don't recall it from my college days in the 70s), but it certainly seems very useful to me. I included a definition in because I suppose many people here won't know the usage, but it deserves to be promoted. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 12 '13 at 20:44
  • Thanks :) I did a little reading from the link you provided; patient is not exactly the same as object. In a passive sentence, the patient would be the subject, because that is what the action (verb) is carried upon. So I guess that distinction is why linguists introduced this definition. – ADTC Jun 14 '13 at 4:09
  • @ADTC: Yes, subject and object are very crude categories. At least identifying subject tells you what verb form you need, but object doesn't help for much. Saying a verb is "ditransitive" because it can take two objects (almost arbitrarily distinguished as direct and indirect) seems equally trite. Many verbs can take multiple "objects" if they're allowed to be attached to prepositions. But would you call "dig" a ditransive verb just because it can take two objects without needing a preposition? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jun 14 '13 at 20:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.