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 (2).

2) Here’s you a piece of pizza.

In this sentence, the “dative” is the pronoun you, which means something like standard English ‘for you’.

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) 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 (see map below). Sporadic attestations are found in the West, but it is certainly not widespread there.

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!

Recent surveys (as yet unpublished), testing the sentences in (4), show that 3rd person is widely accepted as well.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 to whom something is being presented. Rather, the dative refers to the person who ultimately benefits or receives the item under discussion. (In technical terms, this kind of dative is known as a beneficiary.)

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.

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 true information question. 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 be much less likely to 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 true information question, and, as just mentioned, this is considered to be highly marked (or unacceptable) by speakers of 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?

Although Wood et al. (2015) do not test sentences with there’s, various attested examples can be found on the web, such as the examples in (6).

6) a. Have you ever tried bull riding? You should do it once and put it in your show. There's you an idea.

b. Now there’s me a new Easter Dress or Maybe not…

c. There's me some fantasy points.

Verb Form

In most of the examples we find, the verb is a contracted version of be, namely ’s. While there is as of yet no systematic work on the set of available verb forms, we find at least some examples with are. The following examples are attested on the web:

7) a. Where are me some little elves? [Source]

b. Here are you some delicious non meat options! [Source]

In addition, recent survey results indicated that the example in (8) was widely accepted in the relevant dialect region.

8) Where are me some country boys?!

Recent Survey Results

The map below shows the results of our recent survey work. (Part of the data set represented here is published in Wood et al. 2015.) It shows the judgments people gave to the sentence Here’s you a piece of pizza. The green pins are the people who find it acceptable (that is, rate it as 4 or 5 on a scale of 1–5), and the red pins are the people who find it unacceptable (that is, rate it as 1 or 2 on a scale of 1–5). As we can see here, the construction is widely accepted in the South, but not so much elsewhere. The red border is drawn around statistically significant “hot spots”—areas where there are a lot of positive ratings. The blue borders are drawn around statistically significant “cold spots”—areas where there is a particularly high number of low ratings. (Statistical analysis was conducted in ArcGIS 10.2.) We see that the Northeast and most of California are cold spots. In the rest of the map, there are sporadic acceptances, but also a lot of rejections.

Acceptances (Green) and Rejections (Red) of Here's you a piece of pizza

Page contributed by Jim Wood on November 10, 2015


Dudley, Fred A. 1946. ‘Swarp’ and Some other Kentucky words. American Speech 21 (4), 270–73. doi:10.2307/487323

Horn, Laurence R. 2014. Afterword: Microvariation in Syntax and Beyond. In Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English, edited by Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn, 324–347. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montgomery, Michael, and Joseph S. Hall. 2004. Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Wood, Jim, Laurence R. Horn, Raffaella Zanuttini, and Luke Lindemann. 2015. The Southern Dative Presentative meets Mechanical Turk. American Speech 90 (3), 291–320. doi:10.1215/00031283-3324487 [Online Version]