What Are Double-Object Verbs and Why Are They Essential for Fluent English?

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Double-object verbs are special verbs that follow a unique sentence structure in English.

Understanding double-object verbs is essential for fluent English because you may be using this unique structure incorrectly. In fact, it’s one of the most common mistakes I hear when working with English learners.

By learning how to use double-object verbs correctly, you’ll minimize so many of the common mistakes you make when speaking in English.

For example, I often hear new students make these mistakes:

  • Borrow me your pen.

  • Please explain me this.

  • I recommend you this product.

You might be thinking: But what’s wrong with these sentences?

The sentences follow a structure that can’t be used with the verbs, “recommend”, “borrow” and “explain”. In this quick lesson, we’ll explore this point in more detail and we’ll also look into:

  1. What double-object verbs are.

  2. Which verbs can take a double object.

  3. Which verbs can’t take a double object.

We’ve also created a free worksheet with a quick explanation and plenty of exercises to help you practice.

Let’s dive in!

IMPORTANT TIPS ON USING DOUBLE-OBJECT VERBS

So, what’s wrong with the sentences above?

The sentences follow a special structure that can only be used with particular verbs in English, like: “give”, “send”, and “lend”.

We call these verbs “double-object verbs” because they can take on two objects without a preposition:

  • verb + object + object

    Give me a pen.

Now, the verbs in the sentences above (recommend, borrow and explain) are not “double-object verbs”, so they can’t be used in this structure. 

So even though we can say, Give me your pen.” we can’t say,Borrow me your pen.”

What are double-object verbs?

Double-object verbs are verbs that can have two objects: an indirect object without a preposition and direct object:

  • verb + indirect object + direct object

    Give + me + a pen.

The indirect object is usually a person or group of people, and the direct object is a thing or things:

  • Did you send them the report?

As you saw earlier, this structure can be used with verbs like “give”, “send”, and “lend”, but it can’t be used with the verbs “recommend”, “borrow” and “explain”. 

If you’re still confused, don’t worry. In the following section I’m going to simplify this point for you even more. 

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Structuring sentences in English

Let’s start by looking at a common sentence structure in English:

subject verb direct object preposition indirect object
I sent the report to them.

Now, observe the following points:

  1. The report” is the direct object of the verb “sent”.

  2. The direct object follows the verb without a preposition.

  3. Them” is the indirect object of the verb “sent”.

  4. The indirect object follows the verb with a preposition (to).

Pretty simple so far, right?

An alternate sentence structure

Now, the source of all your confusion is this: Some verbs can follow a different structure from this traditional one—but only some, not all.

The structure is:

subject verb indirect object direct object
I sent them the report.

Here, the indirect object comes immediately after the verb (without a preposition), followed by the direct object.

This point surprises so many of my new students. For a lot of English learners, this can be an unfamiliar sentence structure, and it will take some practice to get used to.

Let’s look at another example:

subject verb direct object preposition indirect object
I gave the book to my sister.

We can transform this sentence to this double-object structure and say:

subject verb indirect object direct object
I gave my sister the book.

As I mentioned earlier, this double-object structure can’t be used with all verbs. It only works with certain verbs.

So even though we can say:

  • I sent them the email.

  • I gave my sister the book.

We can’t say:

  • He said me something.

  • I’m explaining my students the answer.

I gave the book to my sister. I gave my sister the book.
He said something to me. He said me something.
I'm explaining the answer to my students. I'm explaining my students the answer..

What will help you here is remembering which verbs can follow this alternate structure and which ones can’t. You’ll find a list of common double-object verbs below, but you’ll also need a lot of practice so don’t forget to download the free worksheet we created for you.

Let’s go back to the sentences we started with in the beginning of the post:

  • Borrow me your pen.

  • Please explain me this.

  • I recommend you this product.

As you learned today, these verbs can’t be used in this double-object structure. So, here are the corrections:

  • Borrow me your pen.

    Can I borrow a pen from you? Or,

    Lend me your pen. (“Lend” is a double-object verb)

  • Please explain me this.

    Please explain this to me.

  • I recommend you this product.

    I recommend this product to you.

Also, keep in mind that the “double object” structure sounds unnatural when the direct object is a pronoun:

  • She gave me it.

    She gave it to me.

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Verbs that can have two objects

Here is a list of common verbs that can be followed by two objects:

VERBS THAT TAKE TWO OBJECTS
give send pass throw
show teach tell write
sell lend want owe
bring get ask find
make cook build cost

Verbs that can’t have two objects

Remember these verbs cannot be followed by two objects:

VERBS THAT DO NOT TAKE TWO OBJECTS
say suggest recommend
explain describe borrow
push take donate

I hope you found this quick lesson and worksheet useful. Thanks for reading and see you in the next post!


About the writer

Sama is the founder of In English With Love and an online English educator from Canada. Her mission is to make quality English learning materials accessible to English learners and teachers everywhere.


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