Direct and Indirect Objects
Written by tutor Janine H.
Having trouble identifying and/or using direct and indirect objects? Don’t have a clue as to what on earth these terms mean? Generally perplexed by the whole grammar business? Well then, you’ve come to the right place.
Instead of getting bogged down in all the technical jargon, let’s first look at each term independently and break it down into manageable chunks.
Up first: direct objects. Two words. Both of which you are probably familiar outside the realm of grammar. Let’s take the second word first. Now traditionally, the word object is synonymous with a thing or an item. In the grammatical realm, it’s not much different. An object, in the wonderful wide world of grammar, is a noun that appears in the predicate of the sentence (the second bit of a sentence that follows the verb of the sentence). Now in the case of a direct object, this noun DIRECTLY receives the action of the verb performed by the subject of the sentence.
O.K. So what exactly do I mean by “directly receives the action of the verb.” Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Let’s look at an example instead of trying to work through the complex grammatical terminology.
Ex. Susan walks the dog.
So in the sentence, Susan is the subject of the sentence. She is the one performing the action of the sentence, the verb walks. Who/what is she walking? The dog! The direct object of the sentence! The dog is receiving the action of the verb, walks, that is being performed by the subject of the sentence, Susan. Huzzah!
Now you are likely wondering about indirect objects and are probably thinking, “Please tell me she is not going to say an indirect object is an object that “indirectly receives the object of the verb.” Sorry. I am going to say just that, but trust me, it will all make sense shortly. Again, let’s turn to an example to simplify things.
Ex. Bob bought me roses.
Looking back at our first example with Susan and her dog, we hit a small snag as there is not one but rather two objects in the predicate of the sentence: me and roses. Oh no! But wait. Let’s look more closely at these two objects.
First up: me. Consider the verb of the sentence: bought. Now is Bob, the subject of the sentence, buying me? I certainly hope not. Rather is buying roses FOR me. So am I directly receiving the action of the verb? Nope! therefore I am indirectly receiving the action of the sentence and am, you guessed it, the indirect object of the sentence. The roses, the objects directly receiving the action of the verb, bought, are the direct object.
While this won’t always work, a good general rule of thumb to determine whether or not an object is direct or indirect is to ask yourself the following “w” questions.
1. After the verb, ask yourself the question “what.” If you are able to answer the question with the object in question, then it is a direct object. Looking at the second example:
Question: Bob bought WHAT?
2. After the verb, ask yourself the question “to WHOM” or “for WHOM.” If the answer to the question is the object, then the object is an indirect object. Again, example 2.
Question: Bob bought what FOR WHOM?
Tada! Indirect vs. direct objects. Not so bad, eh?
Direct and Indirect Object Quiz
Determine whether the underlined word is a direct or indirect object.
Please mail that letter.
You can determine this by asking the question, “Mail what?” Mail the letter. “Letter” is direct because it is the object being mailed.
Please hand me that spatula.
You can determine this by asking the question, “Hand (it – the spatula) to whom?” Hand (it) to me. “Me” is indirect because it is indirectly being affected by the action.
Don’t give me that excuse again!
You can determine this by asking the question, “Give what?” Give that excuse. “Excuse” is direct because it is directly being affected by the action of “giving.”
Please give your family my regards.
You can determine this by asking the question, “Give to whom?” To your family. “Family” is indirect because it is indirectly being affected by the action of “giving.”