I was talking with a friend about an event tomorrow, and I wanted to tell him I’d text him tomorrow after the event and let him know what happened. I said, “I’ll text you tomorrow what happens.”
I said this entirely unmonitored in casual conversation, but it sounded clunky when I heard it out loud. The natural alternative would be “I’ll text you what happens tomorrow.” This variation brings the “what” phrase immediately after the object, which sounds a little better, but it also introduces ambiguity, especially since it refers to the same time period as the event. I could resolve the ambiguity by saying, “Tomorrow, I’ll text you what happens,” but that sounds far worse than my original statement.
Is there a best practice (for lack of better term) for dealing with this? Also, would someone be willing to explain what’s going on grammatically and linguistically? I’m new to serious grammatical and linguistic studies, but it seems like “what happens” is the retained object, and “tomorrow” is a preposition. Is there a prescriptive and/or descriptive linguistic reason for why these different cases to sound better or worse?
People use the verb text the same way they use the verb tell: ditransitively, with both a direct object and an indirect one. In other words, you “text someone something”, or under dative alternation, you “text something to someone”.
The problem with your original sentence is that you’ve separated your indirect object from your direct object by placing an adverbial in between them. English has restrictions against that because it throws off our mental parsers. It doesn’t matter that the direct object is the clause “what happens”; the restriction isn’t about length. It’s an ordering restriction.
Notice how even with a simple direct object and a simple adverbial expression you still can’t put the adverb between the indirect object and the direct one:
- I’ll tell you *soon the story.
You also can’t split off the indirect object from the verb with an adverb:
- I’ll tell *soon you the story.
However, so long as you don’t try to wiggle in next to either side of the indirect object, you can freely place your adverb:
- Soon I’ll tell you the story.
- I’ll soon tell you the story.
- I’ll tell you the story soon.
In your original sentence employing the verb text, you is the indirect object and “what happens” is the direct object. You’re using tomorrow adverbially, and you simply aren’t allowed to stick something between the indirect and direct objects like that. The legal and illegal positions for the time expression with ditransitive text are the same as they are with tell.