Direct and Indirect Objects

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What are they?

An object often follows the subject and verb in a sentence. By definition, an object is a noun or pronoun that gives meaning to the subject and the verb in a sentence. There are two types of objects: direct and indirect.

Direct objects

Direct objects are nouns, pronouns, clauses and phrases. Direct objects follow transitive verbs (action verbs that require something or someone to receive the action). You can identify the direct object by using this simple formula: subject + verb + who? or what? = DIRECT OBJECT. Try using this formula to determine the direct object as you consider the following example:

Example 1: Dennis and Susan ate omelets for breakfast.

The subject is “Dennis and Susan,” and the verb is “ate.” Next ask yourself the question “who or what?” about the verb “ate.” What did the subject, Dennis and Susan, eat? They ate omelets. Therefore, the direct object is “omelets.”

Consider the following example to find the direct object that follows a clause or phrase:

Example 2: Sophia hates when her father lectures her about her grades.

The subject is “Sophia,” and the verb is “hates.” Next ask yourself the question “who or what?” about the verb “hates.” What does the subject, Sophia, hate? She hates “when her father lectures her about her grades.” This subordinate clause (a combination of words that contain a subject and a verb, but do not form a complete sentence) is the direct object of the sentence.

Confusing direct objects with subject complements

It is easy to mistake a direct object for a subject complement. By definition, a subject complement is a clause or phrase that follows a linking verb, such as is, are or was, and complements, or completes, the subject of a sentence by describing or renaming it. It is important to note that only action verbs can have direct objects. Therefore, if the verb is a linking one, the word that answers the question “what” or “who” is a subject complement. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: The chauffeur accidentally locked his keys in his limousine.

“Chauffeur” is the subject, and “locked” is the action verb. What did the chauffeur lock? Answer: his keys, the direct object.

Example 2: The chauffeur was happy to find a spare key.

“Chauffeur” is the subject and “was” is the linking verb. The chauffeur was what? Answer: happy, the subject complement.

Pronouns as direct objects

Never use subjective pronouns as direct objects. When you need a direct object, always use the objective form of the pronoun. Object pronouns are “me,” “us,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “it,” “them” and “whom.” Consider the following example:

Example: After I give my daughter Olivia a lollipop, she always kisses me with her sticky mouth.

“She” is the subject, “kisses” is the action verb and “me” is the direct object.

Indirect objects

Indirect objects are nouns or pronouns that identify to whom or for whom the action of the verb is performed, as well as who is receiving the direct object. Indirect objects are seen infrequently. In order to have an indirect object, there is a direct object. The indirect object typically precedes the direct object and is identified by asking who or what received the direct object. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Samuel sent his aunt a postcard from Martha’s Vineyard.

“Samuel” is the subject, and “sent” is the verb. Ask the question “sent what?” “A postcard” is the direct object. To determine the indirect object, ask who received the direct object. “His aunt” is the indirect object.

Example 2: Marc paints the house for his family.

“Marc” is the subject, and “paints” is the verb. Ask the question “paints what?” “The house” is the direct object. To determine the indirect object, ask for whom did the subject do the action? “For his family” is the indirect object.

Sometimes an indirect object comes before the direct object. Consider the following example:

Example 3: Alexa gave me her algebra notes.

“Alexa” is the subject, and “gave” is the verb. Ask the question “gave what?” “Algebra notes” is the direct object. To determine the indirect object, ask for whom did the subject do the action? “Me” is the indirect object, and it came before the direct object in this sentence.