Direct Object

What is a Direct Object?

A direct object is a nounOpens in new window or pronounOpens in new window which receives the action expressed by the verbOpens in new window. In another thought, a direct object receives the action performed by the subject; or we can say the subjectOpens in new window does the action of the verb to the direct object.

For example, consider the following sentences:
  • The teacher taught the class.
  • The soldier destroyed the enemy

In the examples above, the direct objects (words in bold), each, name the receiver of the action indicated by the verb; it answers the question what? or who? and stands for a person or thing different from the subject.

For example, “The teacher taught what?”—Answer, the class. “The soldier destroyed whom?” Answer, the enemy. The class is not the same person or thing as the teacher (subject); the enemy is not the same person or thing as the soldier (subject). The verb used with a direct object is always an action verb; in grammar, this is called a transitive verbOpens in new window.

Both the predicate nounOpens in new window and the direct object of a verb answer the same question, what? or who? (whom?). They are easily distinguished by their relation to the subject: the predicate noun stands for the same person or thing as the subject; the direct object stands for a different person or thing. The only exception occurs in the use of a reflexive pronounOpens in new window as the object of a verb.

Important Hint 

Note that in some construction the direct object sometimes precedes the subject of the verb, as the sentence below:

  • These clothes she bought in Paris.

Identifying A Direct Object

A simple formula can ease the recognition of a direct object in sentences.

The Simple Formula:
Subject + Action Verb + What? or Whom? = Direct Object
Practical Example:
    John (subject) + Kicked (action verb) + the ball (what? or whom?).
  • John kicked the ball.
  • John kicked what?—Answer, the ball = Direct object.

Generally, a noun functions as a direct object in a sentence when it answers the question, “Who (or what) is receiving the action of the verb?” If a direct object is existing in a sentence, it would normally follow the verb. The verb must be an action verb.

In the sentence, “John kicked the ball,” the noun “John” is the subject. He is the do–er of the action. The verb “kicked” is the action that John performed.

In order to find a direct object in a sentence, we must carry out the following tests:

 First, we must check to ensure the verb is an action verb Opens in new window. Usually, a direct object must receive action, so the verb must be an action verb (Does the verb perform an action?)

Thereafter, the question “What?”, or “Whom?”, will be asked after the action verb. For example, John kicked what? If one word in the sentence answers the question, then the sentence has a direct object.

Practical Examples:
    1.  John kicked the ball
  • First, is kicking an action? — definitely yes.
  • Then, is there a word that answers the question, “John kicked what?” — definitely yes.
  • Ball, is definitely the direct object.
  • 2.  Andy played a piano.
  • First, is playing an action? — definitely yes.
  • Then, is there a word that answers the question, “Andy played what?” — definitely yes.
  • Piano, is definitely the direct object.
  • 3.  Gretchen is happy.
  • Is is an action? — definitely no.
  • With the absence of an action verb, there can be no direct object.
  • 4.  Joel drove across the bridge.
  • Is drove an action? — definitely yes.
  • Is there a word that answers the question: Joel drove “Whom” or “what?” — definitely no.
  • Nothing receives the action. Therefore, there is no direct object.

In a situation where nothing seems to answer the question whom or what, then there is no direct object:

  • James ran fast.
    (James ran whom or what? In this case, nothing answers the question. So, there is no direct object.)

Direct objects may also occur as verb phraseOpens in new window, noun phraseOpens in new window, noun clauseOpens in new window, prepositional phraseOpens in new window. Nevertheless, a direct object will always function as a noun; the following section shed details about these forms.

Different Grammatical Forms that can function as Direct Objects.

Below are examples of direct objects in different grammatical forms such as nouns, pronouns, phrases, or clauses.

1.  Direct Object as a Noun.
    1. Gretchen cooks dinner.
  • Gretchen (subject) + cooks (action verb) + dinner (what or whom)
  • dinner = Direct object
2.  Direct Object as a Pronoun.
    2. Gretchen cooked it.
  • Gretchen (subject) + cooked (action verb) + it (what or whom)
  • it = Direct object.

Note that pronouns can only be used once an antecedent has been identified. In the case of this very example, dinner is the antecedent for it, as we already observed in the noun example. You might as well use the immediate link to learn more about antecedentOpens in new window.

3.  Direct Object as a Compound (more than one noun.)
    3. Mr. Briggs teaches English Language and Literature.
  • Mr. Briggs (subject) + teaches (action verb) + English Language and Literature (what or whom)
  • English Language and Literature = Direct object
4.  Direct Object as a Gerund.
    4. Gretchen hates eating late dinner.
  • Gretchen (subject) + hates (action verb) + eating late dinner (what or whom)
  • eating late dinner = Direct object
5.  Direct Object as a Noun Phrase
    5. The Legislators highlight the challenge facing policy makers.
  • The Legislators (subject) + highlight (action verb) + the challenge facing policy makers. (what or whom)
  • the challenge facing policy makers. = Direct object
6.  Direct Object as a Noun Clause.
    6. The steward confessed that she took the money.
  • The steward (subject) + confessed (action verb) + that she took the money. (what or whom)
  • that she took the money. = Direct object