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Thread: Parsing

  1. #1
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    Red face Parsing

    Hello there,

    Recently one of my students asked me to explain the difference between indirect and direct object, and what I said was basically the same as what I found here in the glossary (directly affected by the verb etc.). My students' L1 background is mostly German, so many use the distinction of dative and accusative case, and I know that most of the time it works. Last week, however, we had the following sentences:

    I helped him.
    I saw him.

    Now, in German, the first "him" would be dative, and the second one accusative. At the end of the discussion, not only my students, but also I was very confused. Can anyone shed light on this matter? Thank you!

  2. #2
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Parsing

    There's no difference to me between them:
    Who did you help?
    Who did you see?

    Try using the question forms to show that in English, the function is the same.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Parsing

    Quote Originally Posted by Estola View Post
    ... what I said was basically the same as what I found here in the glossary (directly affected by the verb etc.). ...At the end of the discussion, not only my students, but also I was very confused. Can anyone shed light on this matter? Thank you!
    Stick to the glossary's version; as Tdol says there's no functional difference between those cases in English. In some cases I find it interesting to reflect on fossilized forms - for example, the word 'nonce' is derived from a dative form of the definite article in Old English: for then ones (for the once).

    But the fact that it's interesting (to maybe only a few people) doesn't make it useful. (On the other hand, though, if your students have a dative in their L1 I see no reason to prevent them from making an association between the dative and the indirect object - you just have to be alive to the possibility that they may try to express that association by sticking in inappropriate prepositions.)

    b
    Last edited by BobK; 31-Oct-2006 at 13:58. Reason: Added last sentence

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    Default Re: Parsing

    OK.

    First of all, the fact that in German "helfen" takes the dative is a bit silly. In fact, Germans themselves get confused -- they will write things like "Er wird geholfen" when it should be "Ihm wird geholfen". As for verbs that take the genitive (and there are quite a few)... well, people are now using the dative instead (which is why Bastian Sick's popular book on German grammar is entitled Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod).

    English doesn't really have much of a case system left, so it doesn't make much sense to describe English grammar in terms of German grammar (at least as far as cases are concerned).

    "Him" is an example of an objective pronoun (as opposed to "he", which is a subjective pronoun); it doesn't make sense to talk of it as being either dative or accusative.

    It does make sense to distinguish between direct and indirect objects when there are two objects to one verb, and then it is a general rule that in German, the indirect object is usually in the dative case.

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    Default Re: Parsing

    hey y'all,

    thanks for the replies! maybe i didn't make myself very clear - sorry - my question was of course not about the german but the english system. so it was correct to say that "him" in "he helped him" is a direct object, right, even though german is a little crazy here? and can i infer from rewboss's reply that there are no instances in english where we have an indirect but NO direct object? accordingly, if we have only one object in a sentence, is it automatically the direct object, and my students need only worry about the distinction between direct and indirect object when there's two objects in a sentence?

    again - thanks a bunch!

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    Default Re: Parsing

    Yep, that's it.

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    Default Re: Parsing

    Thanks - this helped tremendously!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Parsing

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    Yep, that's it.
    Well, you live and learn. Thanks.b

  9. #9
    MikeNewYork's Avatar
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    Default Re: Parsing

    Quote Originally Posted by Estola View Post
    hey y'all,

    thanks for the replies! maybe i didn't make myself very clear - sorry - my question was of course not about the german but the english system. so it was correct to say that "him" in "he helped him" is a direct object, right, even though german is a little crazy here? and can i infer from rewboss's reply that there are no instances in english where we have an indirect but NO direct object? accordingly, if we have only one object in a sentence, is it automatically the direct object, and my students need only worry about the distinction between direct and indirect object when there's two objects in a sentence?

    again - thanks a bunch!
    Yes, an English verb can only have an indirect object if it also has a direct object.

    John passed Bob a note. S-V-IO-DO.
    John passed Bob. S-V-DO.

    Not only does the meaning of "pass" change, Bob moves from IO to DO.

    Also, only certain verbs (called ditransitive verbs) can take an IO and a DO.
    "Help" is not a ditransitive verb.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Parsing

    Thanks Mike. I've thought of an apparent but not real exception, which depends on a meaning of help that doesn't have the meaning 'provide assistance to':

    She helped him to vegetables.

    It looks on the face of it that 'to vegetables' is an IO of help, and that help is - in that case - ditransitive. But I know this isn't really a counter-example at all.

    b

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