"buy to" vs "buy for"

  1. I bought a book for Ann.
  2. I bought a book to Ann.

According to Grammarly, the second sense is not grammatical. Why does ERG accept it?

Hi, @arademaker. I think Grammarly is wrong and the ERG is right. The alternation between the double object construction and the construction with a to-PP is a well-known fact of English. It is very common with transfer of possession verbs like give, bring, buy, etc.

I bought her a book.
I bought a book to her.

The to-PP expresses the recipient, the for-PP a beneficiary.

For me, I bought a book to her only works if bought is interpreted as a simple transitive and to her is a modifier of book.

@arademaker, what analysis are you seeing of this sentence in the ERG?


First, the dative variant in “I sold a book to her” is idiosyncratically not possible for “buy”, so that reading is not available in the ERG for “I bought a book to her”, and this is the reading that Grammarly correctly also rules out. However, as @ebender observes, there is a reading where a book could be dedicated to “her”, and hence “a book to her” is something that I could buy, as in “I knew that any book with a dedication to Emily Dickenson would be valuable, so I bought a book to her that I found in a little bookshop.” There is still another reading, even more pragmatically limited, where “to her” modifies “bought a book” as a locative-path PP, more readily understood with a verb such as “sleep” as in “It was a long trip, so we slept to Paris and then tried to stay awake for the rest of the journey.” It’s awkward pragmatically to come up with a situation where an act of buying a book is performed while along some path with “her” as the destination, but consider “I like to buy a gift for anyone that I visit, but had forgotten until I was on my way to my friend Mary in Paris, so resorted to the in-flight shopping catalogs. I bought a book to her.” This is still awkward, but gets better with a city name rather than “her”: “I was on a ship with a small bookstore, so I bought books (all the way) to London.” Since the ERG does not know which kinds of activities are likely to be performed along paths, the grammar accepts “I [bought a book] to her” as syntactically well formed.


Thanks, @Dan and @ebender for the clarification. I was not aware that to buy represents an “exception” to the dative alternation.

Hi @ebender , the first reading that I got from ERG (trunk) is the one below:

[ TOP: h0
  INDEX: e2
  RELS: < [ pron<0:1> LBL: h4 ARG0: x3 ]
          [ pronoun_q<0:1> LBL: h5 ARG0: x3 RSTR: h6 BODY: h7 ]
          [ _buy_v_1<2:8> LBL: h1 ARG0: e2 ARG1: x3 ARG2: x8 ]
          [ _a_q<9:10> LBL: h9 ARG0: x8 RSTR: h10 BODY: h11 ]
          [ _book_n_of<11:15> LBL: h12 ARG0: x8 ARG1: i13 ]
          [ _to_p_state<16:18> LBL: h1 ARG0: e14 ARG1: e2 ARG2: x15 ]
          [ proper_q<19:23> LBL: h16 ARG0: x15 RSTR: h17 BODY: h18 ]
          [ named<19:22> LBL: h19 ARG0: x15 CARG: "Ann" ] >
  HCONS: < h0 qeq h1 h6 qeq h4 h10 qeq h12 h17 qeq h19 > ]

Note that we have buy transitive and to Ann attached to the event of buy with _to_p_state. In the cases where ‘to Ann’ is attached to _book_n_of the _to_p was used.

Thank you for the prompt response @Dan !!! So Grammarly interpreted that I was trying to give the third complement for the verb buy… But I found two senses on the file surface.smi where an ARG3 is acceptable for “buy”. Hope I understood what are you calling the “dative variant” and I should be probably saying that the dative variant is not possible for “buy to…”, right?

ar@tenis terg % rg buy_v etc/surface.smi
3518:  _buy_v_1 : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i, [ ARG3 i ].
3519:  _buy_v_back : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i.
3520:  _buy_v_from : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 p, ARG3 i.
3521:  _buy_v_into : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i.
3522:  _buy_v_off : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i.
3523:  _buy_v_out : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i.
3524:  _buy_v_up : ARG0 e, ARG1 i, ARG2 i.

and I got this sense in the first analysis of (3)

  1. I bought a book from Ann.
[ LTOP: h0
INDEX: e2 [ e SF: prop TENSE: past MOOD: indicative PROG: - PERF: - ]
RELS: < [ pron<0:1> LBL: h4 ARG0: x3 [ x PERS: 1 NUM: sg IND: + PT: std ] ]
 [ pronoun_q<0:1> LBL: h5 ARG0: x3 RSTR: h6 BODY: h7 ]
 [ _buy_v_from<2:8> LBL: h1 ARG0: e2 ARG1: x3 ARG2: x8 [ x PERS: 3 NUM: sg IND: + ] ARG3: x9 [ x PERS: 3 NUM: sg IND: + ] ]
 [ _a_q<9:10> LBL: h10 ARG0: x8 RSTR: h11 BODY: h12 ]
 [ _book_n_of<11:15> LBL: h13 ARG0: x8 ARG1: i14 ]
 [ proper_q<21:25> LBL: h15 ARG0: x9 RSTR: h16 BODY: h17 ]
 [ named<21:24> LBL: h18 CARG: "Ann" ARG0: x9 ] >
HCONS: < h0 qeq h1 h6 qeq h4 h11 qeq h13 h16 qeq h18 >
ICONS: < > ]

The verb “buy” can certainly have three arguments, as we see in “I bought Mary a book.” But as noted, unlike many verbs taking two NP objects such as “give” or “send”, “buy” does not have the variant where the two complements are a direct object NP and a PP headed by “to”. There is a paraphrase of the above sentence with an NP and a PP:
“I bought it for her” but since almost any verb can be modified by a for-PP, the ERG currently does not analyze the “for her” as the ARG3 of “buy”, instead treating the PP as a modifier of “bought it”. I would be glad to know of some syntactic or semantic test that would show that the for-PP must in some instances be treated as a complement (the ARG3) rather than a modifier of “buy”.

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