Dative alternation

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The term dative alternation is used to refer to the alternation between a prepositional indirect-object construction (The girl gave milk to the cat) and a double-object construction (The girl gave the cat milk), especially in English.

The indirect object structure is also referred to as NP PP structure as it consists of a nounphrase (NP) and a prepositional phrase (PP). The double-object structure is referred to as NP NP structure as it consists of two nounphrases.

PP NP structures though regarded as ungrammatically can seldom be found.


The most profound question is what triggers Dative Alternation. Different approaches to answer this questions are:




Old- and New-Information


This term replaces the earlier terms dative movement or dative shift, which assume a transformational account.


  • Abreu Gomes, Christina. 2003. Dative alternation in Brazilian Portuguese: typology and constraints. Language Design 5:67-78. http://elies.rediris.es/Language_Design/LD5/abreu.pdf
  • Demonte, V. (1995) Dative alternation in Spanish. Probus 7:5-30
  • Bresnan, Joan et al. (2005): Predicting the Dative Alternation. To appear in Royal Netherlands Academy of Science workshop on Foundations of Interpretation Proceedings.