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Is there any grammatical rule to know which verbs can (or better, must) be sometimes followed by "to"? Some examples are:

  • Please explain to me why...
  • She said to me that...

I'm aware I could also say "explain me", but such thing would mean something like "explain what I am" or "give an explanation of myself". However, you could never use "say me". In other cases, it seems both formats are acceptable. An example would be:

  • "Show me" and "show it to me"

Is there any rule to explain this?

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    @BiscuitBoy English. The question isn't only fot the OP, but also for future users with the same concern. FWIW, the OP didn't seem to be a native Spanish speaker either.
    – Yay
    Feb 16 '16 at 17:12
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    Why on earth has this question been migrated? It's probably too broad for ELU rather than too basic. I'd just point out that (1) there are different definitions of ditransitivity, some of which include say 'show' in 'he showed me the correct method'; (2) not all of those verbs in the broadest group undergo the dative transformation ('he showed me the correct method' <==> 'he showed the correct method to me' but 'he explained the correct method to me' <=/=> *'he explained me the correct method'; ... Feb 16 '16 at 17:39
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    (3) some verbs, not in ditransitive usages, (eg 'say' as in 'said to me that') need a transitivising preposition; others ('inform') must not have one, and with yet others the situation changes when they undergo the dative transformation. Feb 16 '16 at 17:44
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    @EdwinAshworth But a doctoral thesis is not what Claudio probably needs. Claudio probably needs some help understanding a very common mistake that folks not fluent in English make. This question is phrased as an ELL question (in my opinion), particularly because the asker is looking for grammatical rules and didn't mention anything about ditransitivity or dative transforms.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 16 '16 at 18:33
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    @claudiosepulveda - ELU is "English Language and Usage," a Stack Exchange for etymologists. ELL is "English Language Learners," a Stack Exchange site for adults who are learning English as a second (or third or fourth) language. People learning about both sites at the same time are often pointed to this ELU meta post.
    – J.R.
    Feb 16 '16 at 21:47
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+50

Because underneath it all, the word meant to flatten {something} out and that meaning acquired a figurative meaning "to make clear, easily understood"; the sense that it is a figurative use has been lost with time.

The direct object of "explain" is thus the thing being explained, not the person to whom the explanation is being given.

English is a Germanic-Latinate hybrid.

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According to George Yule, "[w]ith verbs such as describe or explain, we put indirect object after a preposition, not after the verb"

She described the thief to the police.

They explained the plan to us.

Other verbs which fall in this category are admit, announce, mention, murmer, report, shout, suggest, and whisper.

You see they are often verbs of speaking.

She said "Hello" to me. (NOT she said me "Hello".)

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book, buy, get, cook, keep, bring, make, pour, save, find, give, lend, offer, pass, post, read, sell, send, show, promise, tell

With these verbs, a noun or pronoun right after them has something like an implied "to" or "for" in front of it - it's built-in to the meaning of the verb. (Except keep - e.g. keep me in the loop no preposition works).

Any other verb, you need the "to" or "for" explicitly expressed.

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The normal verb construction is "Can you get me a newspaper?"

Another type is "Can you explain this sentence to me?".

Type 2 is mostly used with Latin verbs such as

announce confide deliver demonstrate describe dictate distribute entrust explain introduce prefer propose relate suggest (this is only a selection). Also to say, which is no Latin verb.

I can't give a simple and clear reason why we have two types. Type 1 might be a simplification of type 2, but was used only with frequent Germanic verbs. But this is a mere guess.

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    There's also the complication that some verbs (called by some benefactives) taking two objects ('Can you get me a newspaper?') have 'for' in the transformation: 'Can you get a newspaper for me?') (and in fact the transformation may not be available: *'He finished her the cleaning.' And again, 'She's costing me a fortune' doesn't have a prepositional transformation. Feb 16 '16 at 19:54
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What an interesting question! I can only add this: be literal. In your example,' "Show me" and "show it to me" ', it is worth noting that "show me" is a common-usage abbreviation for the longer "show it to me". With this in mind, when you want to express a thought, in written form, be literal. Expand your wording to include everything you think is necessary to convey your point. Let's go back to the "Show me" example. Some languages will assume the "to". English does not. Therefore, one can not go wrong by using the extra word, "to".

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