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Verbs with to

verbs with to

Verbs with to

When should we use verbs with to? Tell to or tell. Have you ever wondered why we say ‘explain to me what happened’ and NOT ‘explain me what happened’?

The reason is that certain verbs of communication whose object is indirect always take the preposition ‘to’ or ‘for’ before the indirect object, regardless of the indirect object’s position in the sentence.

Let’s look at some examples of verbs that always take, no matter what, ‘to’ or ‘for’ before their indirect object.

Firstly, what are direct and indirect objects?

Direct object: a noun, pronoun or nominal phrase (a phrase whose nucleus is a noun) that receives the direct action of the verb. I.e,

  • I sold the man a car.

Car is a noun, and a direct object because it receives the direct action of the verb “sell”.

Indirect object: a noun, pronoun or nominal phrase which indicates the beneficiary or the “receiver” of the action of the direct object or verb. I.e.,

  • I sold the man a car.

The noun man is the “receiver”. He “receives” the car, which means that the man is the indirect object of the sentence.

To or for + indirect object

Verbs whose indirect object is always introduced by the preposition TO or FOR, regardless of the indirect’s position within the sentence. Generally, these are verbs of communication:

  • Explain: Explain to me how it’s done. Explain how it’s done to me.
  • Listen: Listen to me in Russian. Listen in Russian to me.
  • Speak: Speak to me in Spanish. Speak in Spanish to me.
  • Talk: Talk to me about your problems. Talk about your problems to me.
  • Describe: Describe to me your situation. Describe your situation to me.
  • Suggest: Can you suggest to me a good teacher? Can you suggest a good teacher to me?
  • Report: He reported to me on the news. He reported on the news to me.
  • Elaborate: He elaborated to me on the news. He elaborated on the news to me.
  • Say: He said to me what was on his mind. He said what was on his mind to me.
  • Communicate: I need you to communicate to me the issue. I need you to communicate the issue to me.


In these cases, it’s important to be aware of the definition of direct and indirect objects (above), as can be seen in the following example:

  • I described the painting by Picasso to him.
  • I described to him the painting by Picasso.

In the first two sentences (which are the same) the subject I  is describing the painting to him, so, in this case, ‘him’ = the indirect object. That’s why it takes the preposition to before it, regardless of its position in the sentence.  

Now, how about the following sentence:

  • I described him.

In this sentence, I described him, ‘him’ is not acting as the indirect object because “him” is being described (maybe he’s tall, short, nice, etc.) Therefore, ‘him’ is not preceded by the preposition ‘to’.

In this regard, you can’t say I described to him if ‘him’ equals the direct object.

Another important point on verbs with to

Take note that these verbs of communication don’t necessarily have to take the prepositions to or for, although in most cases they would take to or for to introduce the indirect object.

Depending on what you want to say you will need to alter the preposition accordingly. For example.

  • James reported on the issue. (issue is the direct object, and report takes on)
  • I suggested Olga be the best candidate. (Olga is the direct object, and no preposition is necessary here).
  • He talked over me. (Me is not the indirect object here, and the phrasal verb is fixed talk over).

More flexible verbs

These verbs below are a small set of examples whose indirect object is introduced by TO or FOR only when the direct object is written between the verb and the indirect object.

Basically, all other verbs that are not verbs of communication (except for ‘tell’) don’t need to use ‘to’ or ‘for’ when the indirect object is written between the verb and the indirect object.

Some examples are as follows

  • Show: Show me your hands. Show them to me.
  • Give: Give me your phone. Give your phone to me.
  • Bring: Bring me your phone. Bring your phone to me.
  • Give: I gave Gemma the shivers. I gave the shivers to Gemma.
  • Offer: I’ll offer you a slice. I’ll offer a slice to you.
  • Lend: I’ll lend you a hand. I’ll lend a hand to you.
  • Sing: Sing me a song. Sing a song to me.
  • Order: order me a beer. Order a beer for me.
  • Teach: Teach me English. Teach English to me.
  • Make: Make me a deal. Make a deal for me.
  • Fine: Fine me the fine. Fine the fine to me.
  • Serve: Serve me the fish, please. Serve the fish to me, please.
  • Save: Save me a seat, please. Save a seat for me, please.
  • Promise: Promise me you won’t go. Promise you won’t go for me.
  • Build: Build me a bridge. Build a bridge for me.

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