Direct and Indirect Objects


Definition: A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of a “transitive verb” in an active sentence or shows the result of the action. It answers the question “What?” or “Whom?” after an action verb.

A simple direct object consists of a noun or pronoun.

For example:

Mary burnt the toast.
* What did Mary burn? She burnt the toast, so “the toast” is the direct object.

A complex direct object consists of that noun and pronoun and any modifiers that accompany it.

For example:

Mary burnt the toast that she left in the oven for half an hour.
* What did Mary burn?  She burnt “the toast that she left in the oven for half an hour”, which is the complex direct object.

A compound direct object consists of two or more noun phrases joined together with a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

Mary burnt the toast and eggs.
* What did Mary burn?  She burnt “the toast and the eggs”, which is the compound direct object.

A useful method for determining direct objects

Another useful method for determining whether a noun or noun phrase acts as the direct object is to attempt to rephrase the sentence in the passive voice. If you can turn the sentence into the passive form, then the direct object of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive sentence. If the noun or noun phrase is not a direct object, then the sentence will not convert into a passive form.

For example:

Active: Todd sang a song.
Passive: A song was sung by Todd.
* The direct object, “a song,” of the active sentence becomes the subject of the passive one.

Active: Ashley became a track star.
* “A track star” is not a direct object and thus cannot become the subject in a passive sentence.

More Examples of Direct Objects.

She closed the door.
* “door” is the direct object because it is directly affected by her action.

Mail the letter and call him.
* “letter” and “him” are direct objects

King Arthur grabbed his sword.
* King Arthur is the subject, because he performs the verb. “Grabbed” is the verb; “his” is a possessive pronoun; the sword is the direct object because the grabbing is performed upon it.


Definition: An indirect object 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.
* Indirect objects are usually placed directly before the direct object.
* The indirect object answers the questions to what? for what? to whom? for whom? after the action verb.

For example:

He gave Mary a rose.
* The predicate of the above sentence consists of the transitive verb “gave,” the indirect object “Mary,” and the direct object “rose.”
* The indirect object, “Mary,” is the person to whom the rose is given.

A complex indirect object consists of the simple indirect object and all the words describing it.

For example:

I bought the little boy with the crooked grin a lollipop.
* simple indirect object = “boy”
* complex indirect object = “the little boy with the crooked grin”

A compound indirect object is an object consisting of two or more noun phrases joined together by a coordinating conjunction.

For example:

I bought the little boy and his sister a lollipop.
* compound indirect object = “the little boy and his sister”

More Examples of Indirect Objects

She gave me the report.
* Who received the report? “Me”. So “Me” is the indirect object.

I bought Aunt Marie a raspberry pie.
* I didn’t buy Aunt Marie, did I? No – so she is the indirect object.

Not to Be Confused With…

In a prepositional phrase, the object that follows the preposition LOOKS LIKE it ought to be an indirect object, but in fact, it is not. So if I change the last example to “I bought a pie for Aunt Marie,” I am saying the exact same statement, but because “Aunt Marie” now  follows the preposition “for,” she has become an object of a preposition and NOT an indirect object. For instance:

King Arthur gave his sword to Lancelot.
* King Arthur is the subject; “gave” is the verb; the sword is the object of the preposition “to” – BUT!!! Lancelot is NOT the indirect object in this phrase – it is the object of the preposition “to.” Now, this is a slight difference from “King Arthur Gave Lancelot his sword” – in this sentence, Lancelot is the indirect object, as he answers the question “to whom [did Arthur give the sword]?”

To further complicate the matter… Be aware that some verbs are actually phrasal verbs – a verb followed by a second word that alters the meaning, such as to live into turn on, or to care about. Knowing this distinction can alter the grammar of a sentence. For instance, “To Run At” means to charge toward something. So in the sentence “He was running at the enemy,” “The enemy” is NOT an object of a preposition – because in this sentence, “at” is a part of the phrasal verb. Think of it this way… if you are on a treadmill at the Holiday Inn, you are running at a hotel (prepositional phrase). But if you are charging the Holiday Inn, sword in hand, you are running at a hotel (and “hotel” is the direct object of “running at”).

Some style guides are beginning to let go of the distinction between indirect objects and objects of the preposition, as the issue does seem to be splitting hairs. But we expect you to be able to explain the difference.


Remember – An ACTION VERB is a verb that shows action. A few action verbs, like understand, are mental processes and can’t be demonstrated

Remember –  An action verb sometimes needs a word to finish its meaning. If this is true, the verb is a TRANSITIVE VERB.


Underline the subject once and the verb twice (don’t forget to underline helping verbs if the tense has been altered).
Circle all direct objects.
Put a square around all indirect objects.

1. Alex baked the class pumpkin bread.

2. I will make them a birdhouse by the end of the year.

3. My dog brought Dad his slippers.

4. I find school elections helpful.

5. In the middle of the pile of papers was Mr. Jones’s golden fountain pen.

6. Lisa and Jim made Mrs. O’Brien a pie from the strawberries in the garden.

7. Some critical people consider fine art boring to think about.

8. Janet ran the 100-meter dash very fast for a beginner.

9. We called Susan an ambulance after she fell from the tree.

10. Aren’t you going to school during the teachers’ strike?



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