What’s wrong with “I’ll open you the door”?

When I call the buzzer outside my girlfriend’s flat, she sometimes says *“I’ll open you the door”. I correct this to “I’ll open the door for you”.

I’ve never heard a native speaker say it the first way, which is why I think it’s wrong. But I can’t explain why.

There is a pattern in lots of English phrases that would suggest both are correct. A few common examples:

  1. Give the keys to me before you goGive me the keys before you go

  2. I’ll buy a coffee for you at the cafeI’ll buy you a coffee at the cafe

  3. We sent a text to Martin on his birthdayWe sent Martin a text on his birthday

The left-hand side is more formal, and the right-hand side is more common in everyday speech.

What do you call this pattern?

What makes the ‘open-the-door’ sentence an exception?


The answer to the presenting question is:

  • *I’ll open you the door.

is ungrammatical because you won’t wind up owning the door by virtue of my opening it.

Ordinary bitransitive verbs of transfer (tell, throw, bring, hand, pass, send, etc.), where the direct object (the trajector, semantically) is transferred from the subject (the source) to the indirect object (the goal), normally are subject to the Dative Alternation:

  • I’ll tell/throw/bring/hand/pass/send the answer to him.
  • I’ll tell/throw/bring/hand/pass/send him the answer.

Besides these, however, there’s also a Benefactive construction, which uses for instead of to, and identifies someone for whose benefit something is done. This can be added to any sentence, 3-place bitransitive, 2-place transitive, or 1-place intransitive. Here we discuss only the transitives:

  • I’ll open the door for you. (Note — you don’t wind up with the door)
  • I’ll dig a clam for you. (Note — you do wind up with the clam)
  • I’ll fix the car for you. (Note — you don’t wind up with the car)
  • I’ll fix a meal for you. (Note — you do wind up with the meal)

In precisely those situations where the Benefactive object of for ends up possessing the direct object, the sentences can undergo Dative; in those cases where they don’t, they can’t.

  • *I’ll open you the door.
  • I’ll dig you a clam.
  • *I’ll fix you the car.
  • I’ll fix you a meal.

The last two sentences show that this extension of Dative to Benefactive is not governed by the verb used (fix in both cases), but by the intended meaning of the clause, including idioms, presuppositions, and metaphors.

Source : Link , Question Author : Iain Samuel McLean Elder , Answer Author : John Lawler

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