Personal datives

“She wanted her some liver pudding.”

(Wolfram and Christian 1976)

A personal dative is a pronoun that occurs immediately after a verb whose subject is coreferential with the pronoun. (Two phrases are coreferential if they refer to the same entity). For example, in the following sentences, them and me are personal datives that are coreferential with they and I, respectively:

1)  a. They bought them a car.
         (Webelhuth and Dannenberg 2006, Southern American English)

b. I'm gonna write me a letter to my cousin.
(Christian 1991, Appalachian English)

Personal datives are unique because they do not contain the reflexive suffix -self (or its plural form -selves) that would have to be present in that position in standard English. For example, standard English does not permit the examples in (1), but it does allow (2a) and (2b), which are similar to (1a):

2) a. They bought themselves a car.

b. They bought a car for themselves.

However, not all personal datives have counterparts in standard English. For example, while (1b) is an acceptable personal dative, neither (3a) nor (3b) is acceptable in standard English, as pointed out by Christian (1991):

3) a. *I'm gonna write myself a letter to my cousin.

b. *I'm gonna write a letter for my cousin for myself.

Moreover, even when a standard English counterpart seems to be available, as in (2a) and (2b), the literature is unanimous in saying that the standard English counterpart has a different meaning than the personal dative; specifically, personal datives place a greater emphasis on the subject's involvement in the event (Webelhuth and Dannenberg 2006).

(Art by Michel)

Who says this?

Wolfram and Christian (1976), Christian (1991), Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006), Conroy (2007), and Armstrong and Hutchinson (2008) describe the personal dative as associated with Southern American English and draw their examples from Appalachian English in particular.

Horn (2008) discusses the presence of personal datives in pop culture (like Toni Braxton's song "I love me some him" ) and cites certain attestations in speakers that are not from the South.

Syntactic properties

Unless otherwise noted, the properties discussed below only apply to personal datives as observed in varieties of English in the American South. These properties may or may not hold in the usages of personal datives that have spread to mainstream popular culture.

Allowed pronouns

Christian (1991) reports that any pronoun except it may be used as a personal dative. This fact is illustrated by the following examples adapted from Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006); all are acceptable except for (4e) (note that you may have a singular or plural reading in (4b)):

4) a. I got me some candy.

b. You got you some candy.

c. He got him some candy.

d. She got her some candy.

e. *It got it some candy.

f. We got us some candy.

g. They got them some candy.

Christian (1991) notes that first- and second-person personal datives occur much more frequently than third-person ones.

According to Horn (2008), personal datives may neither be stressed nor coordinated, although the restriction on coordination is not absolute in all speakers. For example, the following is at least somewhat acceptable for some speakers:

5) ?She bought her and Kim some ice cream.

Position next to the verb

The indirect object in standard double object constructions may appear in any of several locations. For example, (6a) can instead have its indirect object within a prepositional phrase as in (6b), or the indirect object can be moved to sentence-initial position through topicalization, as in (6c), or passivization, as in (6d):

6) a. I gave him a watch.

b. I gave a watch to him.

c. Him I gave a watch.

d. He was given a watch by me.

However, personal datives must appear to the immediate right of the verb (Webelhuth and Dannenberg 2006). Thus, of the following four examples, only (7a) is acceptable (under the desired interpretation):

7) a. I got me a watch.

b. *I got a watch for me.

c. *Me I got a watch.

d. *I was given a watch by me.

With direct objects

Personal datives can only appear after verbs that have direct objects. Thus, the following two sentences are unacceptable (Christian 1991):

8) a. *I sleep me.

b. *We could see us in the mirror.

Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006) point out that, in a personal dative construction, the direct object of the verb has to be indefinite, quantificational, or generic, examples of which are shown in (9a), (9b), and (9c), respectively:

9) a. Mary would love her some flowers.

b. Mary would love her a few flowers.

c. Mary would love her flowers.

Horn (2008) brings up some counter-examples to this restriction, based on Google searches that yield examples like those in (10):

10)  a. I want me the cash.

b. Yar, I love me chocolate syrup!

c. I need me this {coffee mug/keyboard/book/sign/here album}.

It is not possible to say whether such examples are produced by speakers from Southern American English or by speakers of other varieties of English, for whom the grammar of this construction might be different.

With double objects

According to Christian (1991), personal datives cannot occur with verbs that have non-prepositional indirect objects. Thus, although (11a) is acceptable, (11b) is not:

11)   a. He was looking to buy his family a house.

b. *He was looking to buy him his family a house.

However, if the indirect object is instead expressed with a prepositional phrase, a personal dative may be present, as in (12):

12) He was looking to buy him a house for his family.

Coreference and binding theory

A crucial aspect of personal datives is that they must be coreferential with the grammatical subject (Webelhuth and Dannenberg 2006). Thus, him in (13a) is a personal dative, but him in (13b) is not:

13)   a. Hei bought himi some candy.

b. Hei bought himj some candy.

Therefore, personal datives are (at least apparently) violations of Principle B of the binding theory because they involve a pronoun being bound in its domain (in contrast to standard double object constructions like (13b), which are not violations of Principle B).

Possible explanations for Principle B violations

Several authors propose different solutions to the issue that personal datives are an apparent violation of Principle B. Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006) analyze personal datives as being similar to idioms because idioms, like personal datives, are often resistant to movement and often require coreference with the grammatical subject of the sentence in which they occur. Under this analysis, part of the idiomatic nature of personal datives is an exemption from Principle B.

Meanwhile, Conroy (2007) proposes that personal datives are actually reflexives that happen to be phonologically similar to pronouns; thus, personal datives in fact satisfy Principle A and are not involved at all with Principle B.

Finally, Horn (2008) classifies personal datives as non-subcategorized pronouns—that is, they are not arguments of the verb at all. Because some versions of Principle B require the pronoun in question to be a co-argument of the phrase binding the pronoun, he argues that the status of personal datives as non-arguments allows them to create apparent violations of Principle B because they are not co-arguments of the subjects coreferential with them.

We did not "replace this pic" because it already relates to our topic!

Semantic properties

Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006) state that the personal dative serves to "highlight the consequences of the subject's involvement in the event or state denoted by the verb." For example, consider the following sentences from Webelhuth and Dannenberg (2006):

14)  a. I love me some baked beans.

b. Fran loves her a day off every now and again.

c. Kim already baked her a cake this morning.

(14a) and (14b) emphasize the subjects' roles as experiencers of loving and liking. (14c) highlights Kim's role as the one who accomplished the baking of a cake. This property distinguishes personal datives from standard English double object constructions like (15):

15) Kim already baked herself a cake this morning.

Whereas the personal dative her in (14c) serves to highlight Kim's role as the agent who baked the cake, the reflexive herself in (15) highlights Kim's role as the beneficiary for whom the cake was baked. In fact, in (14c), Kim may or may not even be the person for whom the cake was baked, whereas in (15) it is certain that Kim is the beneficiary of the cake-baking.

Horn (2008) states that personal datives contribute a conventional implicature that "the action expressed has or would have a positive effect on the subject, typically satisfying the subject's perceived intention or goals." Hutchinson and Armstrong (2014) build on this notion by stating that the personal dative serves a "satisfactive" role; that is, the usage of the personal dative indicates that the subject becomes satisfied by the event denoted by the verb. By contrast, standard double object constructions like (15) serve a possessive (rather than satisfactive) role by denoting a change in possession between the source and the goal.

Original contribution by Nick Huang on June 11, 2011

Revised and updated by Tom McCoy on August 21, 2015

Personal datives data

(open the map in a new window | see the data in spreadsheet format)


Armstrong, Grant, and Corinne Hutchinson. 2008. The personal dative construction in Appalachian English. Ms., Georgetown University.

Christian, Donna. 1991. The personal dative in Appalachian English. In P. Trudgill and J.K. Chambers [eds.] Dialects of English, 11–19. London: Longman.

Conroy, Anastasia. 2007. The personal dative in Appalachian English as a reflexive pronoun. In Akira Omaki, Ivan Ortega-Santos, Jon Sprouse, and Matthew Wagers [eds.] University of Maryland Working Papers in Linguistics, volume 16, 63–88.

Horn, Laurence R. 2008. “I love me some him”: the landscape of non-argument datives. In Olivier Bonami and Patricia Cabredo Hofherr [eds.] Empirical issues in syntax and semantics 7.

Hutchinson, Corinne and Grant Armstrong. 2014. The syntax and semantics of personal datives in Appalachian English. In Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn [eds.] Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English, 178-214. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webelhuth, Gert, and Clare J. Dannenberg. 2006. Southern American English personal datives: The theoretical signicance of dialectal variation. American Speech 81:31-55.

Wolfram, Walt, and Donna Christian. 1976. Appalachian speech. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Further reading

Green, Georgia. 1974. Semantics and Syntactic Regularity. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. (p.190ff.)

Haddad, Youssef A. 2010. Why personal datives are not anaphors. Manuscript, University of Florida.

Haddad, Youssef A. 2011. The syntax of Southern American English personal datives: An anti-locality account. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 56 (3), 403-412.

Horn, Laurence R. 2013. I love me some datives: Expressive meaning, free datives, and F-implicature. In D. Gutzmann and H.-M. Gärtner (eds.), Beyond Expressives: Explorations in Use-Conditional Meaning, 153-201. Leiden: Brill.

Rotschy McLachlan, Leila. 2011. I love me some Jiminy Glick: The semantic contribution of ‘some’ in personal dative constructions. Extended Abstracts of the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Available here.

Sroda, Mary, and Margaret Mishoe. 1995. "I jus like to look at me some goats": Dialectal pronominals in Southern English. Handout of paper presented at NWAV 24 conference.