Objects in English Grammar

Illustration of a sentence that demonstrates the use of objects in grammar
This sentence (from the novel Crow Lake by Mary Lawson) contains three types of objects: (1) direct objects ( book, twice); (2) indirect objects ( me, twice); and (3) objects of a preposition ( insects and frogs).

In English grammar, an object is either a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun that is affected by the action of a verb. Objects give our language detail and texture by allowing the creation of complex sentences. 

Types of Objects

Objects can function in three different ways within a sentence. The first two are fairly easy to spot because they follow the verb:

  1. Direct objects are the result of an action. A subject does something, and the product is the object itself. For example, consider this sentence: Marie wrote a poem. In this case, the noun "poem" follows the transitive verb "wrote" and completes the meaning of the sentence.
  2. Indirect objects receive or respond to the outcome of an action. Consider this example: Marie sent me an email. The pronoun "me" comes after the verb "sent" and before the noun "email," which is the direct object in this sentence. The indirect object always goes before the direct object.
  3. Objects of a preposition are nouns and pronouns that modify the meaning of a verb. For instance: Marie lives in a dorm. In this sentence, the noun "dorm" follows the preposition "in." Together, they form a prepositional phrase.

Objects can function in both the active and passive voice. A noun or preposition that serves as a direct object in the active voice becomes the subject when the sentence is rewritten in the passive voice. For example:

  • Active: Bob purchased a new grill.
  • Passive: A new grill was purchased by Bob.

This characteristic, called passivization, is what makes objects unique. Not sure if a word is an object? Try converting it from active to passive voice; if you can, the word is an object.

Direct Objects

Direct objects identify what or who receives the action of a transitive verb in a clause or sentence. When pronouns function as direct objects, they customarily take the form of the objective case (me, us, you, him, her, it, them, whom, and whomever). Consider the following sentences, taken from "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White:

"She closed the carton carefully. First she kissed her father, then she kissed her mother. Then she opened the lid again, lifted the pig out, and held it against her cheek."

There's only one subject in this passage, yet there are six direct objects (carton, father, mother, lid, pig, it), a mix of nouns and pronouns. Gerunds (verbs ending in "ing" that act as nouns) sometimes also serve as direct objects. For example:

Jim enjoys gardening on the weekends. 

My mother included reading and baking in her list of hobbies.

Indirect Objects

Nouns and pronouns also function as indirect objects. These objects are the beneficiaries or recipients of the action in a sentence. Indirect objects answer the questions "to/for whom" and "to/for what." For example:

My aunt opened her purse and gave the man a quarter.

It was his birthday so mom had baked Bob a chocolate cake.

In the first example, the man is given a coin. The quarter is a direct object and it benefits the man, an indirect object. In the second example, the cake is the direct object and it benefits Bob, the indirect object.

Prepositions and Verbs

Objects that pair with prepositions function differently than direct and indirect objects, which follow verbs. These nouns and verbs reference a preposition and modify the action of the larger sentence. For example:

Girls are playing basketball around a utility pole with a metal hoop bolted to it.

He sat in the basement of the building, among the boxes, reading a book on his break

Like direct objects, prepositional objects receive the action of the subject in the sentences, yet need a preposition for the sentence to make sense. Spotting prepositions is important because if you use the wrong one, it can confuse readers. Consider how odd the second sentence would sound if it began, "He sat on the basement..." 

Transitive verbs also require an object in order for them to make sense. There are three kinds of transitive verbs. Monotransitive verbs have a direct object, whereas ditransitive verbs have a direct object and an indirect object. Complex-transitive verbs have a direct object and an object attribute. For example:

  • Monotransitive: Bob bought a car.
  • Ditransitive: Bob gave me the keys to his new car.
  • Complex-transitive: I thought the car was fun to drive.

Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, do not need an object in order to complete their meaning.

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