Dative presentatives

Did you look at me and think, “Here's me a guy that hopes like I hope…”

(Woody Guthrie (1943), “You know the night”)


A presentative is a special kind of construction that brings some entity (or sets of entities, or events) to the attention of the interlocutor(s). In English, presentatives are often marked with here’s, as in (1).

1) Here’s the pizza.

A dative presentative construction results when one adds a dative pronoun (or noun phrase) to a presentative. An example of a dative presentative is given in (2a), with the standard English counterpart in (2b):

2) a. Here’s you a piece of pizza.

b. Here's a piece of pizza for you.

In (2a), the “dative” is the pronoun you. Similar to standard English for you, it indicates who is the intended recipient of the item under discussion (known, in technical terms, as the theme).

Who says this?

Dative presentatives were originally reported in Kentucky English, where they were claimed to be a kind of extension of the “personal dative” construction (Dudley 1946:271). Montgomery and Hall (2004:lvi) mention an example as part of their Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Horn (2014:334,fn7) mentions examples found in Kentucky and Utah. Wood et al. (2015, 2020) report on a series of surveys administered by the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, where it was found that dative presentatives are widespread in Southern American English, and overwhelmingly rejected in the North, with the exception of some parts of Michigan. Dative presentatives have also been found sporadically in the West, but the phenomenon is certainly not widespread there. The following map, based on these surveys, shows the average acceptability of Here's you a piece of pizza on a scale of 1-5 (1 being unacceptable, 5 being fully acceptable).

Map created by Jim Wood on Oct. 2nd, 2019

See our interactive map below to explore some of the raw data in more detail.

Syntactic Properties

The dative can be any person

Most attested examples of dative presentatives involve a 2nd person dative (as in (2)), but in fact, examples can be found with 1st, 2nd or 3rd person.

Wood et al. (2015) systematically test 1st and 2nd person singular and plural, and find that all are accepted by a large number of speakers in the relevant dialect region. (Not all such speakers accept all examples, however.) Some of the examples tested are shown in (3).

3) a. Here’s you a piece of pizza.

b. Here’s me a good pair of jeans.

c. Here’s us a gas station—pull over!

Wood et al. (2020) also test the 3rd person sentences in (4), and show that they are widely accepted as well.

4) a. Here’s him a nice cup of coffee.

b. Here’s John a glass of iced-tea.

Note especially that (4b) includes a proper name, rather than a pronoun. It is worth observing that in these cases, the dative does not necessarily refer to the person that the speaker is presenting something to. Rather, the dative refers to the intended recipient of the item under discussion. In (4b), for example, the speaker must intend to ultimately give the glass of iced tea to John, but might be presenting it to a different person entirely.

Here, Where, or There

The here part of the construction can be replaced by where or there. Wood et al. (2015) tested the sentences in (5) with where's.

5) a. Where’s me a screwdriver?

b. Where’s us a place to eat around here?

c. Where’s you a quiet place to study?

In these cases, speakers report that the sentence is not really interpreted as a question that is seeking an informative answer. For example, (5a) would be more likely to be uttered by someone who is walking up to a toolbox to get a screwdriver. It would much less likely be used to ask the hearer where a screwdriver can be found.

In Wood et al. (2015), (5a) and (5b) were reported to be more widely accepted than (5c). Part of the reason may be that (5c) is most naturally interpreted as a question seeking information, and, as just mentioned, this is considered to be highly unacceptable by speakers who use the construction. Goldie Ann McQuaid (pers. comm.) informs us that a 2nd person dative would be more acceptable with where’s in a context where the speaker is looking for, say, a pillow case for a guest spending the night. In that context, the speaker could say a sentence like Okay, now where’s you a pillowcase? This is less likely to be interpreted as seeking information because the addressee is unlikely to know where to find a pillowcase in the speaker's home. Follow up surveys revealed much more wide-spread acceptance of this example than we found for (5c).

Wood et al. (2020) tested the sentences in (6) with there's and found that, although (6c) had lower acceptability ratings than (6a) and (6b), all three sentences were widely accepted.

6) a. There's you a piece of pizza.

b. Now there’s us some easy money.

c. Now there's me a new Easter dress.

Wood et al. (2020) suggest that the lower acceptability of (6c) has to do with the use of the first-person dative me rather than the use of there's. Because it is generally most intuitive to use the second person with a presentative construction, it "takes a bit more imagination" to think of a situation where a first-person dative would sound natural. Of course, (6b) also uses a first-person dative (us), but Wood et al. (2020) suggest that (6b) is more conducive to a first-person dative because of the context conjured by that particular theme (some easy money). Either way, it is clear that there's is absolutely possible in the dative presentative construction.

Verb Form

In most of the examples we find of the dative presentative construction, the verb is 's, a contracted version of be. However, Wood et al. (2020) tested the sentences in (7) and found that other forms of the verb be — namely uncontracted is and are — are also possible for many speakers.

7) a. Here are you some books.

b. Here is you a new bunny.

This is corroborated by example (8), which was found by Wood et al. (2015) and Wood et al. (2020) to be widely accepted in the relevant region, and the examples in (9), which come from the web:

8) Where are me some country boys?!

9)  a. Here are you some delicious non meat options! [Source]

 b. Here is you a great Labor Day recipe to try this weekend. [Source]

 c. Where are me some little elves? [Source]

Wood et al. (2020) also found that the construction is even accepted by some speakers with the verb comes (as in Here comes you a bus).

Recent Survey Results

The interactive map below shows some of the raw data from our recent survey work. (Part of the data set represented here is published in Wood et al. 2015, 2020.)

Important vocabulary for this page

See the full glossary for linguistic terms relevant to other pages

Interlocutor: A participant in a conversation — either the person speaking, writing or signing (the speaker) or the person hearing, reading or seeing the words being produced (the addressee).

Theme: An entity whose state or position is changed or specified by the verb. For example, in the sentence I ate a cake, the noun phrase a cake is the theme of the verb ate. Likewise, in the sentence There's a unicorn in the garden, the noun phrase a unicorn is the theme of the verb is.

Page contributed by Jim Wood on November 10, 2015

Updates/revisions: June 1, 2018 (Katie Martin), Oct. 4, 2019 (Jim Wood), June 7, 2024 (Sarah Sparling)

Please cite this page as: Wood, Jim. 2015. Dative presentatives. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/dative-presentatives. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD). Updated by Katie Martin (2018), Jim Wood (2019), Sarah Sparling (2024).

References

Phenomenon Category: 
Pronouns
Phenomenon Dialect: 
Ozark English
Smoky Mountain English
Southern American English