Submitted by vindibul  •  August 4, 2004

Usage of “envy”

I have seen this construction of “envy” used before and it seems wrong to me. Examples:

“I also don’t envy you the probable consequences of this.”

“I do not envy David the frustration he’ll experience.”

These seem completely wrong to me, but were written by a very grammatically-correct person. I am therefore confused. Are the above constructions right or wrong? If they are correct, what makes them correct?

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I can't believe the conversation has gone on this long without noting that what we're dealing with here is an indirect object. You can give Bob a book or you can give a book to Bob; similarly, you can envy Bob his book just as you can envy Bob for having the book. It's just that there are multiple ways of working indirect objects into sentences.

You can't envy the book, though. Unless you really want to be made of pressed wood pulp.

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First, understand that "envy" is a perfectly good verb, not only a noun.

Now, I agree that the construction "I don't envy you (your possession of something)" looks strange. But it's OK. It is kind of shorthand. We could, for instance, restate the first example as, "Additionally, I don't wish to be in your place should the likely circumstances happen."

You can often make better sense out of such an idiom if you realize that when you feel envy, you are envious of someone possessing something, whether that something is a belonging or just good fortune. So if I was to say, for example, "I don't envy her her son-in-law," I could be saying either, "I'm glad I don't have to have him as my son-in-law," or "I wouldn't want to have the bad luck of being his mother-in-law."

You may also say simply, "I don't envy you."

There is probably a technical linguistic name for this little weirdness, but I don't know what it is. Please be assured that the examples you gave are fine.

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how does that work, though? if "envy" is a verb, like say, "enjoy" wouldn't that mean a sentence like "I do not enjoy this the beer?" correct?

it seems like the two examples are missing a word or something. maybe "I also do not envy you FOR the probable consequences of this" or "I do not envy David WITH the frustration he'll experience?"

are there other verbs that work in this strange way like in the first example? can you give some examples of other verbs taking this form?

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Think of the construction as being:

I (feel) envy (towards) him (on account of) his job.

Begrudge can be used similarly:

"I do not begrudge him his job"

There are indeed many words in the English language that can take two objects, and probably one is accusative and the other is dative (though it makes no visible difference which is which).

"I gave him a letter."
"I sent her the check."
"I called him a bastard."

So:
"I wrote him a note."
"I wrote him."
"I wrote a note."

"I envy him his job."
"I envy him."
"I envy his job."

Pretty much the same construction.

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You are right that the examples are incorrect, you can't envy someone something, you simply envy someone. The "blah" comment is incorrect as well. To fix your examples you go as follows:

"I also don't envy you because of the probable consequences of this."

"Knowing the frustration he'll experience, I do not envy David one bit."

You envy someone, that's it. If you want to explain why, you need to add the reasons, but they will not be grammatically related to the word "envy" itself.

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"Full stop" and "blah," I'm hoping sincerely that increased study of English will prevent you from giving incorrect advice such as what you have posted here.

Vindibul's examples are correct and current, if a little old-fashioned sounding to some. Increased familiarity with correct English writing will convince you of this.

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No. Sorry, you're wrong. You can envy someone, not something. Hmm... wait a sec... well, you can actually say, "I envy your success". But not "I envy David his success". All right, I don't know how to express the rule here, but you get the gist of it, I hope. Either/or, I guess.

"To envy" is not grammatically identical to "to begrudge" -- it would be correct to say, "I dont' begrudge David his success", but to use "envy" here, you'd have to say something "I don't envy David because of his success".

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Now, to be more authoritative, I quote from a dictionary:

"A woman does not envy a man for his fighting courage, nor a man a woman for her beauty. --Collier."

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=envy

Of course, according to your views it should have been ""A woman does not envy a man his fighting courage, nor a man a woman her beauty." But it's not, so that's that. It simply grates on the ear -- though I'm not sure how to formulate the rule. It simply requires a preposition when used this way. And it's rarely used even like that, mostly it's either "I envy him" or "I envy something". Maybe it's different cases? "I envy him" is dative, "I envy his fate" is accusative? Meaning it's not both at once? I'm not sure.

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OK, here is the probably the solution to the conundrum: the verb "to envy" allows of two meanings (I quote from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.  2000. -- http://www.bartleby.com/61/89/E0168900.html)

TRANSITIVE VERB:
Inflected forms: en·vied, en·vy·ing, en·vies
1. To feel envy toward. 2. To regard with envy.
-------------------------------------------------------

It then becomes clear that in Vindibul's examples the same word is used in both senses simultaneously, which can hardly be correct. Iow, in "I do not envy David the frustration he'll experience", the "I don't envy David" part requires the first meaning (I feel envy toward David -- well, I actually do not in that case, but that doesn't matter), whereas the "I don't envy the frustration" part -- the second (I regard something -- in this case "experience" -- with envy.)

In Vindibul's examples both meanings have been collapsed into a single word: that's probably why they don't sound right -- just like the phrase "I run fast and a grocery store" doesn't sound right, although when taken separately, both "I run fast" and "I run a grocery store" are fine.

One thing I'm sure of -- I've never seen such a use of the verb "envy" in print. So, even if it is, as you say, correct but obsolete, it must be REALLY

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OK, here is the probably the solution to the conundrum: the verb "to envy" allows of two meanings (I quote from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.  2000. -- http://www.bartleby.com/61/89/E0168900.html)

TRANSITIVE VERB:
Inflected forms: en·vied, en·vy·ing, en·vies
1. To feel envy toward. 2. To regard with envy.
-------------------------------------------------------

It then becomes clear that in Vindibul's examples the same word is used in both senses simultaneously, which can hardly be correct. Iow, in "I do not envy David the frustration he'll experience", the "I don't envy David" part requires the first meaning (I feel envy toward David -- well, I actually do not in that case, but that doesn't matter), whereas the "I don't envy the frustration" part -- the second (I regard something -- in this case "experience" -- with envy.)

In Vindibul's examples both meanings have been collapsed into a single word: that's probably why they don't sound right -- just like the phrase "I run fast and a grocery store" doesn't sound right, although when taken separately, both "I run fast" and "I run a grocery store" are fine.

One thing I'm sure of -- I've never seen such a use of the verb "envy" in print. So, even if it is, as you say, correct but obsolete, it must be REALLY obsolete, like maybe going back to Shakespeare or something. It's not used this way today, that's for sure; whether it had ever been used like this, I cannot say.

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Other correct alternatives:

"I don't envy the probable consequences you'll have to deal with."

"I don't envy David's future frustration."

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And finally, I apologize to "blah" -- contrary to what I said, he did understand the situation and was going in the right direction; I was actually looking at Jun-Dai's message when commenting the first time. He errs in thinking that "begrudge" and "envy" are identical; they are not. You do "begrudge" something to someone; but with "envy" you can only either feel envy toward someone (a person), or regard with envy something (a thing or event): you can think of these envy1 and envy2 as if they were two different words -- which, semantically, they are -- whose spellings happen to coincide. Like homonyms, I guess.

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Me & My friend are having a battle over the definition & usage of envy. I was searching for info & found this site. HELP!!!! Can you directly envy an object? I say no, he says yes...don'y you have to envy someone in order to envy something?

"I envy that car" (incorrect)
"I envy his car" (correct)

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Btw, speedwell -- you say "Increased familiarity with correct English writing will convince you of this". Can you point to any examples of such use in correct and current English writing? Let's get to the bottom of it.

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I did not say that begrudge and envy are identical. I did, however, say that they can form the same, two-object construction (along with give, send, write, call, etc.). The most frequent use for envy (as a verb), however, is with one, dative object (the person that you feel envy towards). The other two constructions (envy + acc. or envy + dat. + acc.) seem less common to me ("I covet his house" is more likely to be used than "I envy his house").

Also, to provide an example of envy with both a dative and an accusative object: "Jeffrey . . . had actually envied his friends their cool mountain breezes." That one you'll find at dictionary.com.

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It is actually one of the peculiarities of English that there are some verbs that accept a dative and an accusative object simultaneously. Because the cases are not revelealed in the objects themselves (i.e., there is generally no declension of nouns), the case is determined by the order. If there are two objects, the first must be the dative, and the second must be the accusative. Alternatively, people will often remove the dative object and replace it with a prepositional phrase that has the same meaning.

"I gave him his hat" ("him" is dative and "his hat" is accusative).

You cannot say: "I gave his hat him," or rather, if you do it has the strange meaning that you are giving him to his hat.

More examples:

"I bought him a book" "I bought a book for him"

"I poured her a drink" "I poured a drink for her"

If you look here, "envy" is provided as a word that can take two objects, which is a source of confusion for some people learning English:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningengli...

"It cost me money"
"I'm asking you a question"
"I forgive you your sins"

The accusative object is often dropped when using "envy,' because it is usually provided by context: "He has a nice house. I envy him." When there is an accusative object, the dative one is then often dropped, because it is usually indicated by a possessive placed before the accusative object: "I envy his car" implies "I envy him his car," and therefore the "him" in the second case isn't really needed, though it is sometimes retained for eloquence or clarity (and it sounds a little old-fashioned).

Note: the two objects that envy can take may not be dative and accusative, but I am trying to distinguish them somehow and in a way that resembles German. As I think about it, however, I am beginning to feel that I may have them reversed. After all, it is common to be able to replace a dative object with "to" or "for" + that object, e.g., "I gave the hat to him," or "I wrote a poem for him." In the case of envy, however, the object that can be replaced with a preposition phrase is not the pronoun, but rather the object because of which you envy someone "I envy him because of his shoes," or "I envy him on account of his car."

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Yeah, I understand your point, but I don't think it's right. You indeed can "give David a hat", or "give a hat to David", but I don't think you can "envy David his success", or "envy his success to David". That was the point. You either invy David, or his success, but not both in one breath.

The example you've attached comes from Shakespeare, no? There's a lot of stuff in Shakespeare that's no longer used. In fact to read Sh. you need a translation these days. It's not a good example. Give me a current correct usage. I'm not insisting on there not being any; what I'm saying is that I've never seen it; that this usage that you propose grates on my ear; and that it seems to use the same word in two different meanings simultaneously.

The examples of "begrudge", "give", "cost", "forgive", etc. don't help here -- I know these verbs can be used like this. But it says nothing about "envy"! Show me "to envy" in that context -- a legit and current example. I'm honestly curious to find out. The best source would be some modern usage guide or a recent article in a major English-language newspaper or a recent book. I couldn't find anything.

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Easy enough. Do a search on google for these phrases (in quotes, to guarantee the order):

"envy him his"
"envy her her"
"envy him the"

A high percentage of the results (though not all of them) are using "envy" with two objects. Also recognize that this is just some percentage of the total number of Google references for "envy" that have both objects, which, in turn, is a fraction of its usage in the English language.

And no, that wasn't Shakespeare. I don't recall him writing any characters named "Jeffrey," and anyways the quote is attributed to a Froude, who I can only assume is James Froude.

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OK, seems like you're right; I give up.

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Naw, on second thought, still I'm not fully persuaded.

A *targeted* search shows that while "envy" itself is a widely used word, the percentage of the "envy-whom-what" usage cases is vanishingly small.

I've run the searches you've suggested along with a few similar via Google (although not blindly, but in a targeted way, via the "site:" modifier) on the BBC site (news.bbc.co.uk), Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk), and The New York Times (www.nyt.com)

All three sites, when searched on "envy" only, or envy-whom, or envy-what, produce massive numbers of hits. Now, when searched on the "envy-whom-what" construct (EWW):

The BBC site searches result in half a dosen EWW hits, some of which are quotes from some guy on the street being interviewed (and therefore not authoritative.) Your own page (with the language-related questions) is good, of course, so I have to accept this whom-what construct is legit, at least as far as BBC.

The NYT site searches result in ZERO (0) EWW hits.
The Telegraph site searches result in zero EWW hits.

All right then. I'm going to settle on the following: the construct seems legal, but almost entirely absent in current usage.

OK, that's been an interesting investigation, thanks everyone. Now, let's hit something else :-)...
------------------------------------------------
PS. You were right, the quote is from Froude -- James A. Froude (1818 - 1894) . That's better than Shakespeare of course, but still not current.

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OK, Jun-Dai and speedwell, I've finally verified the thing in a usage dictionary -- you are right, and I was wrong.

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Perhaps the answer to the conundrum lies in punctuation style. Let's consider the supposed accusative object is actually an absolute phrase. This absolute phrase is then modifying the singular object. It could be a question of syntax and not grammar. Is a comma necessary or does style afford such. How do you know they are two objects to begin with? Only the writer does.

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