Grammar Made Easy


The Direct / Indirect Object

Direct Object

A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of a verb or shows the result of the action. It answers the question "What?" or "Whom?" after an action verb. An action verb with a direct object is called a transitive verb. The direct objects on this page are italicized.

Notice each question being answered: "Receives what?" "The action"; "Shows what?" "The question"; etc.


Recognize a direct object when you see one.

Direct objects are nouns, pronouns, phrases, and clauses that follow transitive verbs [a type of action verb]. If you can identify the subject and verb in a sentence,  then finding the direct object--if one exists--is easy. Just remember this simple formula:

Subject + verb + what? [sometimes who?] = the direct object

Here are examples of the formula in action:

Zippy and Maurice played soccer in the backyard with grapefruit pulled from a tree.

Zippy, Maurice = subjects | played = verb | Zippy and Maurice played what? soccer = direct object

Zippy accidentally kicked Maurice in the shin.

Zippy = subject | kicked = verb | Zippy kicked who? Maurice = direct object

Sometimes direct objects are single words like soccer and Maurice; other times they are phrases or clauses. The formula nevertheless works the same.

Sylina hates biting her fingernails.

Sylina = subject | hates = verb | Sylina hates what? Biting her fingernails [gerund phrase] = direct object

Even worse, Sylina hates when Mom lectures her about hand care.

Sylina = subject | hates = verb | Sylina hates what? When Mom lectures her about hand care [subordinate clause] = direct object

Direct objects can also follow verbals--infinitives, gerunds, and participles. Use this abbreviated version of the formula:

Verbal + what? (sometimes who?) = direct object

Here are some examples:

To see magnified blood cells, Gus squinted into the microscope on the lab table.

To see = infinitive | To see what? Blood cells = direct object

Gus bought contact lenses because he wanted to see the beautiful Miranda, his lab partner, more clearly.

To see = infinitive | To see who? The beautiful Miranda = direct object

Dragging her seventy-five pound German shepherd through the door is Roseanne's least favorite part of going to the vet.

Dragging = gerund | Dragging what? Her seventy-five pound German shepherd = direct object

Heaping his plate with fried chicken, Clyde winked at Delores, the cook.

Heaping = participle | Heaping what? His plate = direct object

Don't confuse direct objects and subject complements.

Only action verbs can have direct objects. If the verb is linking, then the word that answers the what? or who? question is a subject complement.

The space alien from the planet Zortek accidentally locked his keys in his space ship.

Alien = subject | locked = action verb | The space alien locked what? His keys = direct object.

The space alien was happy to find a spare key taped under the wing.

Alien = subject | was = linking verb | The space alien was what? Happy = subject complement.

Don't use subject pronouns as direct objects.

The chart below shows the differences between subject and object pronouns. Because direct objects are objects, always use the objective form of the pronoun.

Subject Pronouns

Object Pronouns




he, she, it






him, her, it



Check out these sample sentences:

After giving my dog Oreo a scoop of peanut butter, she always kisses me with her sticky tongue.

She = subject | kisses = verb | She kisses who? Me = direct object

Because Jo had cut Mr. Duncan's class five times in a row, she ducked out of sight whenever she spotted him on campus.

She = subject | spotted = verb | She spotted who? Him = direct object

Because David was always eating her food, Theresa sneaked corn chips and candy bars into her room and hid them in the clothes hamper.

Theresa = subject | hid = verb | Theresa hid what? Them = direct object

Inside the Predicate

Now we will look inside the Predicate, and assign functions to its constituents. Recall that the Predicate is everything apart from the Subject. So in David plays the piano, the Predicate is plays the piano. This Predicate consists of a verb phrase, and we can divide this into two further elements:

[plays] [the piano]

In formal terms, we refer to the verb as the PREDICATOR, because its function is to predicate or state something about the subject. Notice that Predicator is a functional term, while verb is a formal term:






However, since the Predicator is always realised by a verb, we will continue to use the more familiar term verb, even when we are discussing functions.


The Direct Object

In the sentence David plays the piano, the NP the piano is the constituent which undergoes the "action" of being played (by David, the Subject). We refer to this constituent as the DIRECT OBJECT.

Here are some more examples of Direct Objects:

We bought a new computer
I used to ride a motorbike
The police interviewed all the witnesses

We can usually identify the Direct Object by asking who or what was affected by the Subject. For example:

We bought a new computer

Q. What did we buy?
A. A new computer ( = the Direct Object)

The Direct Object generally comes after the verb, just as the Subject generally comes before it. So in a declarative sentence, the usual pattern is:

Subject -- Verb -- Direct Object

The following table shows more examples of this pattern:




Direct Object

The tourists


the old cathedral



a postcard

The detectives


the scene of the crime


Realizations of the Direct Object

The Direct Object is most often realised by an NP, as in the examples above. However, this function can also be realised by a clause. The following table shows examples of clauses functioning as Direct Objects:


functioning as




Nominal relative clause

[1] He thought that he had a perfect alibi

[2] The officer described what he saw through the keyhole


To-infinitive clause

Bare infinitive clause

-ing clause

-ed clause

[3] The dog wants to play in the garden

[4] She made the lecturer laugh

[5] Paul loves playing football

[6] I'm having my house painted


Subjects and Objects, Active and Passive

A useful way to compare Subjects and Direct Objects is to observe how they behave in active and passive sentences. Consider the following active sentence:

Active: Fire destroyed the palace

Here we have a Subject fire and a Direct Object the palace.

A direct object is the receiver of action within a sentence, as in "He hit the ball." Be careful to distinguish between a direct object and an object complement:

·         They named their daughter Natasha.

In that sentence, "daughter" is the direct object and "Natasha" is the object complement, which renames or describes the direct object.

The indirect object identifies to or for whom or what the action of the verb is performed. The direct object and indirect object are different people or places or things. The direct objects in the sentences below are in boldface; the indirect objects are in italics.

·         The instructor gave his students A's.

·         Grandfather left Rosalita and Raoul all his money.

·         Jo-Bob sold me her boat.

Incidentally, the word me (and similar object-form pronouns such as him, us, them) is not always an indirect object; it will also serve, sometimes, as a direct object.

·         Bless me/her/us!

·         Call me/him/them if you have questions.

In English, nouns and their accompanying modifiers (articles and adjectives) do not change form when they are used as objects or indirect objects, as they do in many other languages. "The radio is on the desk" and "I borrowed the radio" contain exactly the same word form used for quite different functions. This is not true of pronouns, however, which use different forms for different functions. (He [subject] loves his grandmother. His grandmother loves him [object].)

Direct Object Rules

A direct object receives the action performed by the subject. The verb used with a direct object is always an action verb. Another way of saying it is that the subject does the verb to the direct object.

Example: The car hit the tree.

To find the direct object, say the subject and verb followed by whom or what. The car hit whom or what? Tree answers the question so tree is the direct object.

If nothing answers the question whom or what, you know that there is no direct object.

Example: The car sped past.

The car sped whom or what? Nothing answers the question so the sentence has no direct object.

The direct object must be a noun or pronoun. A direct object will never be in a prepositional phrase. The direct object will not equal the subject as the predicate nominative, nor does it have a linking verb as a predicate nominative sentences does.

Direct objects may be compound.

Example: The car hit the tree and the fence.

The car hit whom or what? Tree and fence answer the question so tree and fence are the direct objects.

A sentence with a compound verb may have two different direct objects in it.

Example: The dog ate the meat and drank some water.

The direct object for the verb ate is meat, and the direct object for the verb drank is water. The dog didn't drink the meat or eat the water.



Indirect Object

An indirect object precedes the direct object and tells to whom or for whom the action of the verb is done and who is receiving the direct object. There must be a direct object to have an indirect object. Indirect objects are usually found with verbs of giving or communicating like give, bring, tell, show, take, or offer. An indirect object is always a noun or pronoun which is not part of a prepositional phrase.

Example: She gave me the report.

(Who received the report? Me.)















We will make


the man


an offer.





a job.

The captain told


the people


the story.

You won't grant


the soldier



You gave




some water.

When will she teach


the young students


the lesson for today?

I will offer


the nurses


better pay.

It is better to serve


the old lady


her dinner now.

The cook baked


the children


some cookies.



the family


a new car.

Could you show




the pavilion?





a curve-ball.

He usually picked




a winner.

I will build


the students


a new bookstore.








The indirect object is often used right before a direct object and does not follow a preposition, as illustrated in the phrases above. If a preposition is used, then the word becomes the object of that preposition, as in the following, where to and for are prepositions and man and yourself are their objects:

We will make an offer to the man. Get a job for yourself.

Even though the indirect object is not found after a preposition in English, it can be discovered by asking TO WHOM or FOR WHOM after the verb:

Serve the old lady dinner. "Serve [dinner] to whom?  To the old lady."

Indirect objects could not exist without direct objects.

They are totally dependent on the existence of direct objects for their existence.

Here's why: Indirect objects are what receive the direct objects.

Without direct objects to receive, indirect objects have no reason to be.

Here's an example:

Suellen gave Thomas the answers to the test.

You will recall, that in our discussion of direct objects, the way to find them is to state the action verb in a question ending with "What".

In the sentence above we have an action verb, "gave", and an answer to the question "Gave what?", "answers".

Therefore we have the direct object, "answers".

Is there anything in the sentence that received the direct object?

You bet, Thomas!

"Thomas" is the Indirect Object.

On the other hand, if you try that sentence without a direct object, you get:

Suellen gave Thomas.


The sentence screams out for something Suellen can give to Thomas!

As mentioned, a way to spot a direct object is to say the verb followed by the word "What?" Gave what? The answer to that question is the direct object, "answers".

A way to spot an indirect object is to say the verb and the direct object followed by "to whom/what?"

Gave answers to whom?

The answer is the indirect object "Thomas".

Have any indirect objects in your writing?

If so, jot a couple of sentences here; if not, make up a couple.

Remember, you'll need an action verb, direct object, and someone/something who receives the direct object.



An indirect object is really a prepositional phrase in which the preposition to or for is not stated but understood. It tells to whom or for whom something is done. The indirect object always comes between the verb and the direct object. Example: She gave me a gift. The indirect object always modifies the verb. It may have modifiers and be compound. It is used with verbs such as give, tell, send, get, buy, show, build, do, make, save, and read. Example: She sent the man and me a gift.

Find the verb, direct object, and indirect object in the following sentences.

1. Has your boss sent you a notice about the next convention?

2. John read his tiny nephew an exciting story.

3. Our father built the family a redwood picnic table.

4. The doctor sent me a bill for his services.

5. We gave my mother a book for her birthday.



1. sent = verb; notice = direct object; you = indirect object

2. read = verb; story = direct object; nephew = indirect object

3. built = verb; table = direct object; family = indirect object

4. sent = verb; bill = direct object; me = indirect object

5. gave = verb; book = direct object; mother = indirect object


Find the verb, direct object, and indirect object in the following sentences.

1. Has Terri shown Jeanne and Barbara her new ring?

2. The new highway saved the travelers several miles.

3. Did the workers give the spies confidential information?

4. Will Jim get us tickets to the game?

5. I bought Ila and Jeff two big pieces of cake.



1. has shown = verb; ring = direct object; Jeanne/Barbara = indirect objects

2. saved = verb; miles = direct object; travelers = indirect object

3. did give = verb; information = direct object; spies = indirect object

4. will get = verb; tickets = direct object; us = indirect object

5. bought = verb; pieces = direct object; Ila/Jeff = indirect objects


Find the verb, direct object, and indirect object in the following sentences.

1. The new manager offered Jay a higher position.

2. This spring Carl told us his plans for the summer.

3. Many jobs don't pay the employees much money.

4. Mr. Blower read the neighbor children some interesting stories about Australia.

5. Mr. Smith, my broker, sold my parents some stock yesterday.



1. offered = verb; position = direct object; Jay = indirect object

2. told = verb; plans = direct object; us = indirect object

3. do pay = verb; money = direct object; employees = indirect object

4. read = verb; stories = direct object; children = indirect object

5. sold = verb; stock = direct object; parents = indirect object


Rewrite the following sentences so each has an indirect object.

1. I asked an important question of my mother.

2. Grandpa read the nursery rhymes to the grandchildren.

3. She bought a new dress for herself.

4. He did a great favor for the whole town.

5. The artist showed his most famous painting to the viewers.



1. I asked my mother an important question.

2. Grandpa read the grandchildren the nursery rhymes.

3. She bought herself a new dress.

4. He did the whole town a great favor.

5. The artist showed the viewers his most famous painting.

Using all the knowledge learned in the previous lessons, find the verb (v), subjects (subj), predicate nominatives (pn), direct objects (do), appositives (app), nouns of address (na), adjectives (adj), predicate adjectives (pa), adverbs (adv), prepositions (prep), objects of the preposition (op), prepositional phrases (p ph), and indirect objects (io) in the following sentences.

1. At the mall Pam bought her children two new toys.

2. Tomorrow you should send your friend a thank you card.

3. The veteran pitcher threw the rookie hitter a fast-breaking curve ball.

4. The public defender gave her client her best advice.

5. Eric showed his math teacher a problem with the question.



1. bought = v; Pam = subj; toys = do; children = io modifying bought; two/new = adj modifying toys; her = adj modifying children; at the mall = p ph modifying bought; at = prep; mall = op; the = adj modifying mall

2. should send = v; you = subj; card = do; friend = io modifying should send; a/thank you = adj modifying card; your = adj modifying friend; tomorrow = adv modifying should send

3. threw = v; pitcher = subj; ball = do; hitter = io modifying threw; the/veteran = adj modifying pitcher; the/rookie = adj modifying hitter; a/fast-breaking/curve = adj modifying ball

4. gave = v; defender = subj; advice = do; client = io modifying gave; the/public =adj modifying defender; her = adj modifying client; her/best = adj modifying advice

5. showed = v; Eric = subj; problem = do; teacher = io modifying showed; his/math = adj modifying teacher; a = adj modifying problem; with the question = p ph modifying problem; with = prep; question = op; the = adj modifying question