Direct and Indirect Objects

By Maeve Maddox

A transitive verb takes its name from the fact that its action goes “across” from the verb to a receiver of the action. The receiver of the action is called an object.

Transitive verbs can take two kinds of object: “Direct Object (DO)” and “Indirect Object (IO).”

Direct Objects
A direct object may be a noun, pronoun, phrase, or clause.

In order to identify the direct object, take the verb and ask the question “verb what?” or “verb whom?”:

The lovely green crocodile swallowed the unwary swimmer.

Question: “Swallowed what?”
Answer: “the unwary swimmer.”

The direct object is the noun swimmer and the words that go with it.

The direct object can be a gerund or an infinitive phrase:

His son likes repairing cars. (gerund, DO of likes)
I want to write a best-selling novel. (infinitive phrase, DO of want)

The direct object can be a noun clause:

Mary Lou hates when her mother makes her clean the cat pan. (noun clause, DO of hates)

I thought that you were going to pick me up after school. (noun clause, DO of thought)

Please explain why you painted the garage pink. (noun clause, DO of explain)

Indirect Objects
An indirect object may be a noun or a pronoun. The Indirect Object does not receive the action of the verb; it receives the Direct Object.

The verb is still the clue for identifying the Indirect Object. The question to ask is “Verb to” or “for What/Whom?”

Uncle Scrooge left his nephews all his money.

Question: “left to or for whom?”
Answer: “his nephews”

The Indirect Object is the noun nephews and the adjective that goes with it.

When a transitive verb has both a direct object and an indirect object, the indirect object will usually come directly after the verb. Here are some more examples of Indirect Objects (in boldface):

Sheherazade told the sultan a marvelous story.
The construction engineer built his daughter a house.
You have lain around the house long enough; get yourself a job.

Here are some common words that take an indirect object with the “to” implied:

award
give
grant
hand
lend
offer
owe
tell
promise
pass
show
teach
throw

Here are some common verbs that take an indirect object with “for” implied:
build
buy
catch
choose
cook
find
get
make
order
peel
pour
save

Both Direct and Indirect objects are said to be in the Accusative Case. Older terminology would classify nouns and pronouns used as Indirect Objects as being in the Dative Case.

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