Friday, October 8, 2010

The Direct Object of My Affection

Lily writes:
Hey Snarky,
I am very confused about how to tell a direct object from an indirect object. Please help!
Piece of cake, Lily. I'll walk you through the difference between both types of objects, and I'll even give you a foolproof way to make sure you have it right.

How to spot a direct object:

  • An action verb works directly (no preposition) on a direct object.
  • Ask a question using this formula:
    Subject + Verb + What/Whom? >> Direct Object
    The fans loved their team. The fans loved whom? >> their team
    I rode my bike to school.
    I rode what? >> my bike
    Her teacher hates when Maria snaps her gum.
    Her teacher hates what? >> when Maria snaps her gum.
    • A direct object can be a noun, pronoun, or phrase. I am going to rake the leaves.  He hates playing golf. She likes him.

    How to spot an indirect object:  
    • You can't have an indirect object without a direct object.
    • Look for a (real or invisible) preposition. Hint: An indirect object is frequently a person who receives something, such as a gift or a communication. The indirect object answers the question: To/For/From whom?
      1. I gave the book to Joe. I gave Joe the book. I gave what? The book (direct object). To whom? Joe (indirect object).
      2. I told the girls the news. I told the news to the girls. I told what? The news (direct object). To whom? The girls (indirect object).
      3. My sister made a bracelet for me. My sister made me a bracelet. My sister made what? A bracelet (direct object). For whom? Me (indirect object).
      4. I gave Joe his birthday present. I gave his birthday present to Joe. I gave what? His birthday present (direct object). To whom? Joe (indirect object).
      5. She baked the kids some cookies. She baked some cookies for the kids. She baked what? Some cookies (direct object). For whom? The kids (indirect object).
      6. I bought myself a new sweater. I bought a new sweater for myself. I bought what? A new sweater (direct object). For whom? Myself (indirect object).

    Foolproof test:
    • If you remove the direct object, the sentence will no longer make sense. I bought myself a new sweater.
    • If you remove the indirect object, the sentence will make sense but you won't know 'to whom?' or 'for whom?' I bought myself a new sweater.


    1. What about a sentence like:
      I laid on him.
      I is the subject, laid is the verb, but is him the direct or indirect object? Since you say indirect objects can't occur without a direct object, then that makes him a direct object, no?

      Yet...if I ask the question...I laid who/what? The answer is not him. The answer might be something like...I laid my head...on him. So I'm confused.

      1. >.> nnoooooooooobbbbb

      2. In my opinion, there is a direct object of this sentence but it is implied or hidden. The sentence as given is simply a contraction of, "I laid myself on him". So the implied/hidden direct object is "myself" and the overt indirect object is "him".

        "Laid" is the past participle of "lay", which is a transitive verb and therefore has an object, although sometimes that object may be implied or hidden. See article "lay vs lie".

    2. Laid is an intransitive verb here so there is no direct object (look at that post transitive vs intransitive). "on him" is a prepositional phrase.

    3. Im still having trouble with direct objects can you help me

    4. For anyone who has studied a language with declension like e.g. Latin: The direct object is the Accusative, the indirect object is the Dative.

    5. It would have been much less confusing to define indirect objects as prepositional so that Paul in both these sentences was indirect (as they are in French):
      "I speak to Paul"
      "I give the apple to Paul".

      The moment the classification system causes more confusion than it helps understand the language is the time to start questioning the system.

    6. Thank you so so so... much for explaining very nicely and in a simple way.
      Thanks a lot

    7. The reason this sentence is confusing is that it's wrong: It should read I lay (past tense of the intransitive verb lie) on him. On him gives it away that there is no direct object. Laid is always transitive, being past tense of the transitive verb lay: I laid the book down next to him. Transitive verbs always transfer an action to the direct object...there is nothing being done "to him" therefore laid (should be lay) here is intransitive

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