The English dative alternation: The case for verb sensitivity

Malka Rappaport Hovav*, Beth Levin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

171 Scopus citations


We challenge the predominant view of the English dative alternation, which takes all alternating verbs to have two meanings: a caused possession meaning realized by the double object variant and a caused motion meaning realized by the to variant. Instead, we argue that verbs like give and sell only have a caused possession meaning, while verbs like throw and send have both caused motion and caused possession meanings. We show that the caused possession meaning may be realized by both variants. Concomitantly, we argue that verbs like give, even in the to variant, lack a conceptual path constituent, and instead have a caused possession meaning which can be understood as the bringing about of a have relation. We reassess evidence for alternative approaches adduced from inference patterns and verbargument combinations and demonstrate how our verb-sensitive analysis, when combined with an account of variant choice, provides a more insightful explanation of this data, while having wider coverage. Our investigation affirms proposals that a verb's own meaning plays a key role in determining its argument realization options. To conclude, we consider the crosslinguistic implications of our study, attempting to explain why so many languages lack a true dative alternation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)129-167
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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