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 a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun that is affected by the action of a verb (a direct object or an indirect object) or that completes the meaning of a preposition (the object of a preposition).

Here are examples of these three types of objects.

  1. direct object 
    Marie wrote a poem.
    (The noun poem follows the transitive verb wrote and completes the meaning of the sentence.)
  2. indirect object
    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.)
  1. object of a preposition
    Marie lives in a dorm.
    (The noun dorm follows the preposition in. Together, in + a dorm form a prepositional phrase.)

When the object is a personal pronoun, the objective case is used: me, you, him, her, it, us, or them.

Etymology
From the Latin, "to throw"

Direct Objects

  • "Bessie held the heavy bag of food in one hand, and in the other she grasped her pocketbook tightly." (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key," 1970)
  • "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." (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)

Indirect Objects

  • My aunt opened her purse and gave the man a quarter.
  • "It was Valentine's Day and she had baked me a whole box of heart-shaped biscuits." (Sam Taylor, The Amnesiac, 2008)

Objects of Prepositions

  • "Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it." (John Updike, Rabbit, Run, 1960)
  • "He sat in the basement of the church, among his fellows, singing at the top of his voice." (William Saroyan, "Resurrection of a Life," 1935)

Direct and Indirect Objects

"Objects are most typically noun phrases. They follow the verb. They may be direct or indirect.

Direct objects indicate the person or thing that undergoes the action denoted by the verb, or the participant directly affected by the action:

I like that restaurant.

She kicked him.

They stole a van and then they robbed a bank.

Indirect objects indicate the recipient of a direct object. They are usually people or animals. An indirect object (bold) is always accompanied by a direct object . . .:

They handed me a pile of forms.

Her mother sent her a cheque for her birthday.

(Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, "Object." Cambridge Grammar of English, Cambridge University Press, 2006)
 

How to Identify Objects

"A useful way to identify an object is to consider it as an answer to a question with What or Who(m) + auxiliary + subject: What do armadillos eat? Who(m) is Charles visiting tomorrow? In terms of meaning, the object is often identified with the person, thing and so on that is affected by the action described by the verb. Whereas the subject typically represents the 'doer,' the object typically represents the 'doee.'" (Geoffrey Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006)

From Active to Passive

"An important property of the object is its ability to be shifted to initial position to become the new grammatical subject of a passive sentence. . . .

"Take the following active sentence with The Big Issue as its direct object:

I purchased The Big Issue.

In forming the passive counterpart to this sentence we 'promote' the old object to become a new subject; we insert the appropriate form of the auxiliary verb be and the original verb becomes a passive participle; we demote the original subject to the end of the sentence to form a new prepositional phrase with by. The prepositional phrase is optional; hence the brackets in the following example:

The Big Issue was purchased [by me].

Only a sentence with an object can undergo passivization in this way and therefore the ability to passivize can be used as a criterion for object status." (Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2010). 

Pronunciation: OB-jekt