I'm not sure if two dative objects are allowed in a sentence. My doubt arose while trying to say

Мне нужно ему сказать, что …

Here, the only way to distinguish who needs something is the order in the sentence, am I right? The question sounds trivial, but I thought that the different cases were like slots, that when filled, could travel along the sentence, thus being their commutativity allowed, since no confusion arises. But playing with this example –assuming it is right– suppose you want to stress "ему", so you bring "ему" to the first place in the sentence, like in the following situation:

–Kому тебе нужно сказать правду? Ей?
–(да нет,) ему нужно мнe сказать правду.

Would a particular интонация help to distinguish what one want?

  • 1
    Take the question ("Kому тебе нужно сказать правду") and, using its word order, just replace "кому" with "ему" and "тебе" with "мне", and you'll have a perfectly sensible answer (to that particular question) without any ambiguity. Moreover, if I read such a sentence out of context, I would even be able to tell that "ему" was supposed to be emphasised by the speaker.
    – Andriy M
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 14:37

4 Answers 4


The point is, in your sentences there are no two dative objects referring to the same predicate.

Нужно ("is needed") is the predicate, it has one Dative object ("for whom"). The subject of нужно is, naturally, in the Nominative case ("what"). But in your examples the subject is expressed by a verbal phrase, an infinitive + its objects, that is why нужно agrees with this infinitive in the Neuter gender. So, сказать is the subject of your sentences. In its own turn, сказать has two objects, an Accusative one ("what"), and a Dative one ("to whom"). The Accusative object in your sentences is expressed by an objective clause beginning with , что ... Well, this all may seem complicated, but actually it is not. Have a look at this chart:

enter image description here

  • I believe the predicate is нужно сказать.
    – jwalker
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 14:30
  • @jwalker - Нужно can function without an infinitive, like in Мне нужна вода. or Мне нужен переводчик. Here нужно agrees in gender with the subject, so I have no hesitation as for determining сказать as a subject, since the predicate agrees in Gender only with the subject, am I right? Still, this is language, and multiple alternative explanations are always possible. I'll be very grateful, if you could prove your assumption.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 14:41
  • sorry, I seem to have confused it with a compound verbal predicate.
    – jwalker
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 15:15
  • @jwalker - It looks very much like a compound verbal predicate, still it has no finite verb in it. This is a very subtle sphere, I'm sure it's treated in different ways by different schools of Russian grammarians.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 15:19
  • +1 Just for the picture :)
    – Aleks G
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 19:16

While Yellow Sky's answer may explain it technically, it doesn't seem to help distinguishing the two dative objects.

Мне (ему / ей / и т. д.) нужно at the beginning of a clause is a "strong" collocation that makes the phrase unambiguous. You don't need any special intonation to make it understandable. If you make it "Yodic" (which would be still normally understandable in other cases), it makes it ambiguous: ему сказать нужно мне or ему сказать мне нужно.

Also, when you need to make a stress, you don't have to move the word to the first position. Moreover, it won't help it in your example, but the intonation will.


In phrase мне нужно ему сказать, что there's no slightest hint on disambiguation. Moreover, it is 100% valid grammar construction. It is translated like "I need to tell him that ...". And the second phrase, ему нужно мнe сказать, что is translated "He needs to tell me that ...".

May be I don't get right the second part of you question, but no, the order is not that much strict, so you can say 'ему нужно сказать мне' (which is a full equivalent of second phrase) or 'мне нужно сказать ему' (which is identical to the first phrase).


I would say that however the following is grammatically correct, this is not what natives would say:

–Kому тебе нужно сказать правду? Ей?

–(да нет,) ему нужно мнe сказать правду.

It's better to say this way:

-Кому [тебе] нужно сказать правду? Ей?

-(да нет,) ему.

Stressing (с интонацией) at the word ему. No one would use the full answer in real life,

P.S. Maybe even better worded question to avoid double Dative:

-Кому ты должен сказать правду? Ей?

  • I totally agree, we don't really use double dative constructions in real life.
    – hijarian
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 15:43

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