Children between the ages of three and seven occasionally make errors with locative verbs like pour and fill, such as * I filled water into the glass and * I poured the glass with water (Bowerman, 1982). To account for this pattern of errors, and for how they are eventually unlearned, we propose that children use a universal linking rule called OBJECT AFFECTEDNESS: the direct object corresponds to the argument that is specified as ‘affected’ in some particular way in the semantic representation of a verb. However, children must learn which verbs specify which of their arguments as being affected; specifically, whether it is the argument whose referent is undergoing a change of location, such as the content argument of pour, or the argument whose referent is undergoing a change of state, such as the container argument of fill. This predicts that syntactic errors should be associated with specific kinds of misinterpretations of verb meaning. Two experiments were performed on the ability of children and adults to understand and produce locative verbs. The results confirm that children tend to make syntactic errors with sentences containing fill and empty, encoding the content argument as direct object (e.g. fill the water). As predicted, children also misinterpreted the meanings of fill and empty as requiring not only that the container be brought into a full or empty state, but also that the content move in some specific manner (by pouring, or by dumping). Furthermore, children who misinterpreted the verbs' meanings were more likely to make syntactic errors with them. These findings support the hypothesis that verb meaning and syntax are linked in precise ways in the lexicons of language learners.