What Is an Indirect Object? (with Examples)

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.

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.")
indirect object

A Video Summary

Here is a short video to explain the term "indirect object."

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.")
  • Let him have 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 father" 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.")

The Indirect Object Is Often Preceded by "To" for "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)

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)

Objects Take 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 "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.

Only Transitive Verbs Have Direct Objects and Indirect Objects

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.

Do Not Confuse Complements with Direct Objects

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.

Verbals Can Have Direct and Indirect Objects.

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.

Why Should I Care about Indirect Objects?

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," "veliki," "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.
  • She gave me and my wife a present.
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).
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

Take a test on the indirect object What is a direct object? What are transitive verbs? What are intransitive verbs? What are objects? What is an object complement? What is the object of a preposition? What is the accusative case? What is the dative case? Glossary of grammatical terms