Indirect Object

What Is an Indirect Object?

The indirect object of a sentence is the recipient of the direct object. (The direct object is the thing being acted on by the verb.) For example:
  • Sarah gave John an apple.
  • (In this example, the indirect object is "John" because he is the recipient of the direct object "an apple," which is the thing being acted on by the verb "gave.")
  • The vicar told us a fable.
  • (The indirect object is "us" because "us" is the recipient of the direct object "a fable," which is the thing being acted on by the verb "told.")

Table of Contents

  • Easy Examples of Indirect Objects
  • Video Lesson
  • More Examples of Indirect Objects
  • How to Find the Indirect Object
  • Indirect Objects Preceded by "To" or "For"
  • More Detail about Indirect Objects
  • Indirect Objects Are Usually People
  • The Objective Case
  • Objects and Transitive Verbs
  • Direct Objects vs Complements
  • Objects and Verbals
  • Why Indirect Objects Are Important
  • Test Time!
indirect object

Easy Examples of Indirect Objects

In all the examples on this page, the indirect objects are shaded, and the direct objects are in bold.

Let's start by looking at a sentence that doesn't have an indirect object.
  • Paula passed the parcel.
  • (The direct object is "the parcel." There is no recipient of "the parcel" in this sentence. Therefore, there is no indirect object.)
This next example, however, tells us about the recipient. That's the indirect object.
  • Paula passed her father the parcel.
  • (The indirect object (i.e., the recipient) is "her father.")
Here is a short video to explain the term "indirect object." video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

More Examples of Indirect Objects

Here are some more examples of sentences with indirect objects.
  • Simon gave his uncle a dirty look.
  • ("His uncle" is the indirect object. He is the recipient of the direct object, "a dirty look.")
  • Paula passed the money to her mother.
  • ("Her mother" is the indirect object. She is the recipient of the direct object, "the money.")
    (Note: Sometimes, the indirect object will follow a preposition like "to" or "for.")
  • Give him it.
  • ("Him" is the indirect object. He is the recipient of the direct object, "it.")
    (Note: When the indirect object is a pronoun, the pronoun must be in the objective case. So, "him" is correct. "He" would be wrong.)
  • Shall I tell the children our ghost story tonight?
  • ("The children" is the indirect object. They are the recipients of the direct object, "our ghost story.")

How to Find the Indirect Object

Before you can find the indirect object, you have to find the direct object. You can find the direct object by finding the verb and asking "what?". Once you've found the direct object, ask who or what received it. For example:
  • She gave the beggar a gold coin.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "gave"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "a gold coin"
    • (Therefore, the direct object is "a gold coin.")
    • Step 3. Ask "Who (or what) received it?" = "the beggar"
    • (Therefore, the indirect object is "the beggar.")
Remember that once you have found the direct object, you have to ask who (or what) is receiving it to find the indirect object. Let's do another one:
  • Show me the signature.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "show"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "the signature"
    • (Therefore, the direct object is "the signature.")
    • Step 3. Ask "Who (or what) will receive it?" = "me"
    • (Therefore, the indirect object is "me.")

Indirect Objects Preceded by "To" or "For"

Often, the preposition "to" (and sometimes "for") will precede the indirect object, which makes spotting the indirect object much easier. This happens when the direct object (bold text) comes before the indirect object.
  • She gave a letter to Jennifer.
Compare the example above to this:
  • She gave Jennifer a letter.
  • (The preposition "to" is now omitted.)
Here are some more examples with "to":
  • He presented the prize to the winning captain.
  • He bought lunch for Alison.
  • When giving jewellery as a present, I'm giving protection to someone I care about. (Actress Sofia Boutella)

I Don't Agree!

Some grammarians claim that a direct object is not followed by "to" or "for." In their view, "Sarah" is not an indirect object in the first sentence below but is in the second.
  • Give the box to Sarah.
  • (Some claim "Sarah" is the object of the preposition "to" and not an indirect object.)
  • Give Sarah the box.
  • (Everyone agrees Sarah is an indirect object when there is no preposition.)
Here at Grammar Monster, we - of course - agree that "Sarah" in the first example is the object of the preposition "to." However, we sit with those who classify "Sarah" as the indirect object because we find it translates better to the grammar of other languages, and we like consistency. Whatever your view, please be aware of this debate. If you disagree with anything on any of our pages, please let us know using our contact us page.

More Detail about Indirect Objects

Indirect Objects Are Usually People

Indirect objects usually people, but not always. This means that, occasionally, you might have to ask "for or to what?" as opposed to "for or to whom?" to find the indirect object.
  • I have given the room a quick inspection.
  • Metaphors give your writing some spice.
  • Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. (Educational reformer Horace Mann)

The Objective Case

In English grammar, objects (direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions) are always in the objective case. In English, this only affects pronouns (but not all pronouns). For example:
  • They know her.
  • (The pronoun "her" (the direct object of "know") is the objective-case version of "she.")
Her is an example with an indirect object:
  • Give us the diamonds.
  • (The pronoun "us" (the indirect object of "give") is the objective-case version of "we.")
  • Pass me the butter.
  • (The pronoun "me" (the indirect object of "pass") is the objective-case version of "I.")
Here is a list of personal pronouns with their objective-case versions:
Personal PronounObjective Case VersionComment
Ime
youyouno change
hehim
sheher
ititno change
weus
theythem
whowhomThis one causes errors.
Read about who/whom.
whoeverwhomeverThis one causes errors.
Read about whoever/whomever.

Objects and Transitive Verbs

A verb that takes a direct object is called a transitive verb. A few verbs do not have a direct object. They are known as intransitive verbs. For example:
  • Jonathan skidded on the ice.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "skidded"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = Nothing. You can't skid something.)
    • (Therefore, there is no direct object. The verb "to skid" is intransitive.)
    • Step 3. We can't do Step 2 if there's no direct object.
Let's look at another one:
  • Lee is snoring heavily.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "is snoring"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = Nothing. You can't snore something.)
    • (Therefore, there is no direct object. The verb "to snore" is intransitive.)
    • Step 3. We can't do Step 2 if there's no direct object.

Direct Objects vs Complements

If you ask "what?" with a linking verb, you will find a verb complement not a direct object. For example:
  • Jonathan was angry.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "was"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "angry.")
    • (However, on this occasion, "angry" is not the direct object. This is because "was (i.e., the verb to be)" is a linking verb.)
Let's look at another one:
  • Jonathan seemed uncomfortable.
    • Step 1. Find the verb = "seemed"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "uncomfortable.")
    • (However, "uncomfortable" is not the direct object. This is because "to seem" is a linking verb.)
Read more about linking verbs.

Objects and Verbals

It's not just verbs that can have direct and indirect objects. Verbals can too. The verbals are infinitives (e.g., "to read," "to think"), gerunds (e.g., "reading," "thinking"), and participles (e.g., "reading," "thinking" - they look the same as gerunds).

Here is an example of an infinitive with a direct object and an indirect object:
  • To give me a gun was lunacy.
  • ("To give" is an infinitive.)
    • Step 1. Find the "verb" (in this case, it's an infinitive) = "to give"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "a gun"
    • (Therefore, the direct object is "a gun.")
    • Step 3. Ask "Who (or what) will receive it?" = "me"
    • (Therefore, the indirect object is "me.")
Read more about infinitives. Here is an example of a gerund with a direct object and an indirect object:
  • I was planning on presenting John the wooden spoon.
  • ("Presenting" is a gerund.)
    • Step 1. Find the "verb" (in this case, it's a gerund) = "presenting"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "the wooden spoon"
    • (Therefore, the direct object is "the wooden spoon.")
    • Step 3. Ask "Who (or what) will receive it?" = "John"
    • (Therefore, the indirect object is "John.")
Read more about gerunds. Here is an example of a participle with a direct object and an indirect object:
  • Throwing her dog a dirty look, she stormed out the room.
  • ("Throwing" is a participle.)
    • Step 1. Find the "verb" (in this case, it's a present participle) = "throwing"
    • Step 2. Ask "What?" = "a dirty look"
    • (Therefore, the direct object is "a dirty look.")
    • Step 3. Ask "Who (or what) will receive it?" = "her dog"
    • (Therefore, the indirect object is "her dog.")
Read more about participles. Native English speakers make few mistakes related to indirect objects because, in English, nouns, articles, and adjectives do not change depending on their role in a sentence. In other words, "the big dog" is "the big dog" regardless of whether it's doing something (i.e., the subject), having something done to it (i.e., the direct object), or the recipient of something (i.e., the indirect object). The same is not true in many other languages.

Here are three good reasons to care about indirect objects.

(Reason 1) Knowing about objects is essential when learning a foreign language.

Most languages follow this structure: Look at this sentence:
  • The big dog gave the big dog the big dog.
  • (We can work out what this means by looking at the word order.)
Now look at it in German:
  • Der große Hund gab dem großen Hund den großen Hund.
  • (There are three different articles ("der," "dem," "den") and two different adjectives ("große," "großen"). We have it easy!)
Now look at it in Serbo-Croat:
  • Veliki pas dao je velikom psu velikog psa.
  • (They don't use articles in Serbo-Croat, but, even still, there are three different adjectives ("veliki," "velikom," "velikog") and three different words for dog ("pas," "psu," "psa"). Yeah, we definitely have it easy!)

(Reason 2) "Who/whom" is just like "he/him" and "they/them."

"Who" is the subject of a verb. "Whom" isn't. "Whom" is always an object (a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition). For example:
  • Who gave whom whom, according to "whom"?
  • ("Who" is subject of "gave." The first "whom" is the indirect object, the second "whom" is the direct object, and the third "whom" is the object of a preposition.)
Compare the sentence above to these:
  • John gave Mark Simon, according to Alan.
  • He gave him him, according to him.
  • (Native English speakers would have no issues converting the top version with names to the bottom version with pronouns, unless those pronouns were "who" and "whom.")
Writers never confuse pairings like "he/him" and "they/them." Well, they're no different from the "who/whom" pairing. Read more about "who" and "whom.".

(Reason 3) "I" can't be an object.

Native English speakers rarely make mistakes with personal pronouns. However, this is not true for the pronoun "I" when it appears in a phrase like "my wife and I." There, it causes lots of mistakes! So, here's the rule:

"I" cannot be an object (a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of a preposition)...ever.
  • She gave my wife and I a present. wrong cross
  • She gave me and my wife a present. correct tick
It doesn't matter how posh "my wife and I" sounds. If you've used it as an object, it's wrong. You should be using "me and my wife" (it sounds more natural that way around). Read more about "my wife and I/me" on the personal pronouns page (see Point 1).
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.