Indirect objects with to and for

 

Q:

What preposition can I use with the verbs write and read? For example:

(a) I always write to my dad twice a month. Or
(b) I always write for my dad twice a month.

And:

(c) I usually read books to my kids at night. Or
(d) I usually read books for my kids at night.

Isabella
[email protected]

A:

With both write and read, use the preposition to if you mean that the father is to receive the letter and that the children are to hear what's in the books.

In order to understand this answer, let's provide direct objects for the sentences:

(a)

I always write a letter to my dad twice a month. (Your sentence (a) with a direct object, "a letter", inserted)

(c)

I usually read books to my kids at night. (Your sentence (c) with a direct object, "books," inserted.)

Many verbs, including write and read, as in (a) and (c), can take to to indicate who (or occasionally what) is the recipient of the direct object.

If, however, you want to indicate that you are performing an action on behalf of the other person梚nstead of the other person's doing the action himself梩he preposition for would indicate this.

For example, if you say:

(b)

I always write letters and checks for my dad twice a month, (Your sentence (b), with a direct object, "letters and checks" inserted)

it would mean that your dad can't write by himself—he's sick or illiterate, for example—so you help him out twice a month by doing the writing for him.

The same holds true with the verb read:

(e)

I have to read the directions on the medicine bottles for my grandmother; her eyesight isn't good any more.

Many grammarians would not call the to- version a true indirect object but rather "object of a preposition." They reserve the name "indirect object" for the "recipient" or "beneficiary" of a direct object. A "true" indirect object comes after the verb and before the direct object, as in "I wrote my father a letter." We prefer to call the prepositional version—as in (a) above—the "to-indirect object."

Note that none of these particular for-sentences, even with a direct object, expresses an indirect object relationship. It is rather a surrogate or substitute relationship, in which person A performs an action on behalf of person B, usually because person B is unable or unwilling to perform the action. Click here for an explanation of true indirect object relationships with and without the preposition for.

(For a simple chart with examples of verbs that can take to and those which can't, click here.)

(To see a related message,

"Prepositions ?photo of or photo for us?,"

click here.)