Indirect Object

An Indirect Object always precedes the direct objectOpens in new window and tells for whom or to whom the action of the verbOpens in new window is done. In addition to this, the indirect object also tells who is receiving the direct object.

Indirect objects are usually nounsOpens in new window or pronounsOpens in new window and generally indicate “to whom” or “to what,” “for whom” or “for what” something is done.

It is important to note that a direct object must exist before an indirect object can exist. That way you will know you need a direct object in order to have an indirect object.

For example, consider the following sentences:
  • Joel gave his brother a gift.
  • Margaret bought her grandfather a Christmas card.

In the first sentence above, the direct object “gift” tells what Joel gave, and the indirect object “brother” tells “to whom” he gave it.

In the second sentence, the direct object “Christmas card” tells “what” Margaret bought, and the indirect object “grandfather” tells “for whom” she bought it.

A phraseOpens in new window beginning with the prepositionOpens in new window “to” or “for” can be used in place of an indirect object. Thus, the first sentence would become “Joel gave a gift to his brother” ; the second sentence would become “Margaret bought a Christmas card for her grandfather.” With an indirect object, the “to” or “for” is never expressed in the sentence; when expressed, the noun is an object of a prepositionOpens in new window and not an indirect object.

Also included in the class of indirect objects are certain nouns that are equivalent to “of whom” when used after the verb “ask”. Thus, the sentence, “The teacher asked the student a question,” is equivalent to “The teacher asked a question of the student.” In this instance the idea of “to” is also present because asking something of a person is the syntactic equivalent of addressing one’s self to him or her.

The following verbs and their verb forms will always take indirect objects:

Verbs that always take indirect objects

Below are further examples of indirect objects and direct objects (the indirect objects are marked in bold and the direct objects in italics):

Practical Examples of Indirect Object
  • Jessica told Gretchen the update.
    (Gretchen is the indirect object, and update is the direct object.)
  • The traffic warden gave us the correct description.
    (The indirect object is us, and the direct object is description.)
  • The waitress brought them their dessert.
    (The indirect object is them, and the direct object is dessert.)
  • My class teacher gave me an assignment.
    (The indirect object is me, and the direct object is assignment.)
  • The technician sent the family an invoice.
    (The indirect object is family, and the direct object is invoice>)

Identifying an Indirect Object

Identifying an indirect object is fairly simple once the direct object has been recognized.

To find a direct object, ask “to what?” or “to whom?” the action of the verb is done.

To find an indirect object, ask “to whom/what?” or “for whom/what” the direct object is intended.

Consider the examples below:
    1.  Jane supplied him the goods.
  • Jane supplied what? goods
  • goods is the direct object.
  • To whom/what or for whom/what did Jane supply the goods? Him.
  • Him is the indirect object.
  • 2.  Gretchen lent Jackson the book.
  • Gretchen lent what? book
  • book is the direct object.
  • To whom/what or for whom/what did Gretchen lend the book? Jackson.
  • Jackson is the indirect object.

Distinguishing Direct Object from Indirect Object

To effectively distinguishe a direct object from an indirect object, we need to carefully observe what direct and indirect objects do in a sentence.

Direct Object
    A direct object is the recipient of the action of the verb.

    For Example:
  • Brenda played Naomi the movie
  • What is it that Brenda played?—Answer, she played the movie.
Indirect Object
    An indirect object receives the direct object.

    For Example:
  • Brenda played Naomi the movie
  • Whom was the movied played for?—Answer, she played it for Naomi.

As we observed in the examples above, a direct object is the receipient of the action of the verb; In this instance, the action of the verb is the movie being played. Thus, the movie is the direct object. On the other hand, we observe that an indirect object is the noun (person or thing) that receives the direct object. In this instance, the movie (being the direct object) was played for the indirect object of the sentence; which is Naomi.

Important Hint!  

Object of Preposition Cannot Act as Indirect Object.

Indirect objects are utterly distinct from prepositional phrases. If what appears to be an indirect object occurs within a prepositional phrase, it is the object of the preposition, not an indirect object.

Observing carefully an Object of Preposition:

  • Brenda played a movie for her.
  • In this example, it seems that “her” would be the indirect object. But in actual sense, “her” is the object of the preposition “for.”

You need to know that the indirect object will always come before the direct object in the sentence. In this example the direct object “a movie” is placed before the indirect object “her” (which means her come after the direct object). “Her” is the object of the prepositionOpens in new window.