received this comment about a draft letter I prepared:Well, as long as people are being judg(e)mental about others' language here, I'll say that it's Rude English (RdE) to claim that someone else's dialect is 'bad English'. Let's see what Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition) has to say about write:
"Can you please put in I AM WRITING TO YOU NOT I AM WRITING YOU..this is amercian and bad english."
Comment is from an England-born Australian.
I am willing to admit that this may be American English (and the letter is on behalf of an organization that is supposed to use "international" (i.e., British) English. But it's certainly not "bad English", is it? (And I do find it easier accepting criticism on my English that is spelled and capitalized properly... but that's another issue.)
If there is a difference between UK and US English on this, does it apply to other verbs, such as "send"?
The transitive AmE use = 'to communicate with (a person) in writing' is shown in the following examples from short stories in the New Yorker. I had written my mother about all this (1987); Liza, my dear, I have never written you yet to thank you for going out to our house (1993). This construction was formerly standard in BrE ('frequent from c 1790' says the OED), but it is now in restricted use unless accompanied by a second (direct) object, as in I shall write you a letter as soon as I land in Borneo. In old-fashioned commercial correspondence the types We wrote you yesterday; Please write us at your convenience were often used, but nowadays to would normally be inserted before you and us.Meanwhile, John Algeo's British or American English? says:
Ditransitive [i.e. with two objects--Lynneguist] use of write (I wrote them a letter) is common-core English. But some ditransitive verbs can also be used with either object alone: I told them a story. I told a story. I told them. In American English, write belongs to that category: I wrote a letter. I wrote them. In British English, however, if write has a single object, it is normally the ditransitive direct object, and when the ditransitive indirect object occurs instead, it is the object of a preposition: I wrote to them. Also in British, if the direct object function is filled by direct or indirect discourse, the same prohibition against the ditransitive indirect object exists: I wrote to them, "I'll come on Sunday," not ?I wrote them, "I'll come on Sunday." I wrote to them that I would come on Sunday, not ?I wrote them that I would come on Sunday.So, to sum up:
- I'm writing you a letter is standard AmE and standard BrE.
- I'm writing you to ask a question is fine in AmE and used to be fine in BrE.
send: I sent a package to him. I sent him a package. I sent a package. *I sent him.So, send is in the wrong class of verbs for comparison. Write in AmE is more like tell and the following verbs, in that it can both take two objects without any prepositions and it can have just the recipient of the communication as a single object (which may or may not occur with other non-object kinds of things, as indicated in the parentheses/brackets below).
tell: I told Di a secret. I told Di (about the fire).All of those ditransitive and transitive versions are fine in BrE--so it is only write, as far as I know, that creates a problem. Having a look in Beth Levin's wonderful* English verb classes and their alternations (1993), I'm a little disappointed to find that she's not treated this class of verbs ('Verbs of transfer of a message') fully--but she does admit to this. Since the class also includes things like preach and quote and those don't fall into the same patterns as ask and teach and tell, there's yet some work to be done here.**
ask: I asked Di a question. I asked Di (about the fire).
teach: I taught the students an equation. I taught the students (about fire safety).
So, this is all to say that there are some patterns to be found in verbs of this type, but that not every verb follows them, so it's not surprising that this is an area where dialectal differences might crop up. But don't blame the Americans. We're not the ones who (orig. AmE) ditched a perfectly good transitive verb!
* No, I'm not being sarcastic. Linguists adoooore books like this.
** Hey, final-year students--why not you?!