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Hello, Tirol, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange!

I think "to" is needed there:

- A strange letter was sent to me.

I think "to" might be omitted when another complement follows:

- A strange letter was sent me by an old partner.

- A strange letter was sent me yesterday.

However, "was sent to me" is always more frequent and natural. Here is an old thread that confirms this.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

I agree with Gustavo that the sentence is much better with "to" included ("A strange letter was sent to me", not "A strange letter was sent me").

The version with "to" is the passive of "Somebody sent a letter to me," whereas the version without "to" is a passive version of the double-object construction "Somebody sent me a letter." The double object construction can be passivized, but, except when the verb is "give," it is generally only the first object that becomes subject. The following sentence is perfectly fine:

  • I was sent a letter. [the passive of "Somebody sent me a letter"]

In that passive construction, the noun phrase after the verb ("a letter," in this case), which was the second object in the double-object construction ("Somebody sent me a letter"), is sometimes referred to as a "retained object."

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