What Is an Object? (with Examples)

Object (English Grammar)

An object is a noun (or pronoun) that is governed by a verb or a preposition. There are three kinds of object:
object in English grammar

Examples of Direct Objects

The direct object of a verb is the thing being acted upon. You can find the direct object by finding the verb and asking "what?" or "whom?". In each example below, the verb is in bold and the direct object is shaded.
  • Please pass the butter.
  • (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = pass)
    (Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Pass what? A: the butter)
  • I don't have a bank account because I don't know my mother's maiden name. (Comedienne Paula Poundstone)
  • (Step 1: Find the verbs. Verbs = don't have and don't know)
    (Step 2: Ask "what?" for each verb. Q: Don't have what? Don't know what? A: a bank account and my mother's maiden name.)
Direct objects can be pronouns too.
  • Don't eat me. I have a wife and kids! Eat them! (Homer Simpson)
  • (Step 1: Find the verbs. Verbs = don't eat, have, and eat)
    (Step 2: Ask "what?" for each verb. Q: Don't eat whom? Have what? Eat whom? A: me, a wife and kids, and them)
The verb could be a phrasal verb (e.g., to put down, to give up, to recover from).
  • My cat is recovering from a massive stroke. (Comedian Darren Walsh)
  • (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = is recovering from)
    (Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Is recovering from what? A: a massive stroke)
It can get complicated.
  • The cat wants to eat our goldfish.
  • (Step 1. Find the verb. Verb = wants)
    (Step 2. Ask "what?". Q: Wants what? A. to eat our goldfish)
    (That seems easy enough, but note that the direct object has its own verb and direct object. (Q: Eat what? A: our goldfish.))
Don't forget that the term noun does not usually mean a single word. An object can be a single-word noun (e.g., dog, goldfish, man), a pronoun (e.g., her, it, him), a noun phrase (e.g., the doggy in window, to eat our goldfish, a man about town), or a noun clause (e.g., what the dog saw, how the goldfish survived, why man triumphed).

Read more about direct objects.

Examples of Indirect Objects

The indirect object is the recipient or beneficiary of the action (more often than not, it's a person). You can find the indirect object by finding the verb and direct object (see above) and then asking "for or to whom?". In each example below, the direct object is bold and the indirect object is shaded.
  • Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. (Actress Marilyn Monroe)
  • (Q: Give the right shoes to whom? A: a girl)
  • Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy. (Author F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • (Q: Show a hero to whom? A: me)
    (Q: Write a tragedy for whom? A: you)
  • Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. (General George Patton)
  • (Q: Never tell "how to do things" to whom? A: people)
    (Q: Tell "what to do" to whom? A: them)
Often, the words to or for will be present, making identification easier.
  • When giving jewellery as a present, I'm giving protection to someone I care about. (Actress Sofia Boutella)
Indirect objects aren't always people. Every now and again, you might have to ask "for or to what?" as opposed to "whom?".
  • Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. (Educational reformer Horace Mann)
Read more about indirect objects.

Examples of Objects of Prepositions

The noun (or pronoun) governed by a preposition (i.e., a word like in, on, at, by, near) is known as the object of a preposition. In each example below, the preposition is bold and the object of the preposition is shaded.
  • Lee lives near Brighton.
  • He lives among us.
When talking about the object of a preposition, grammarians like to sharpen the focus, so the term object of a preposition refers to the head noun in any noun phrase. All the other words in the phrase are "relegated" to modifiers. In each example below, the preposition is bold, the object of the preposition (i.e., the head noun) is also bold and shaded, and the modifiers are just shaded.
  • Lee lives near a pub.
  • (The object of the preposition is pub, and a is a modifier.)
  • He lives among his old friends..
  • When I was younger, I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born. (Comedian Yianni Agisilaou)
It can get complicated.
  • You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans. (President Ronald Reagan)
  • (In this example, his and of eating jellybeans are modifiers for way. Of note though, of is a preposition with its own object of a preposition, eating.)
Here's a quirk. When the object of the preposition is a noun clause, there's no head noun, so the whole clause is described as the object of the preposition.
  • I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together . Riveting! (Comedian Stewart Francis)
Read more about objects of prepositions.

More about Objects

Here are three more noteworthy points related to objects:

Only transitive verbs can have a direct or indirect object.

When a verb has a direct object, it is called a transitive verb. Some verbs do not take objects. They are known as intransitive verbs.
  • Malcolm fell very badly.
  • (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = fell)
    (Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Fell what? A: Nothing. You can't fall something.)
    (Therefore, there's no direct object. The verb to fall is intransitive.)
Read more about intransitive verbs

Linking verbs don't have a direct object.

Don't confuse subject complements with direct objects. If you ask "what?" with a linking verb, you'll find a subject complement not the direct object.
  • Peter is happy.
  • (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = is)
    (Step 2. Ask "What?". Q: Is what? A: happy.)
    (On this occasion, happy is not the direct object. This is because is (i.e., the verb to be) is a linking verb.)
Look at this example:
  • You are a funny guy. I will kill you last.
  • (Here, a funny guy is not a direct object. It's a subject complement following the linking verb are (i.e., to be). The verb will kill (i.e., to kill) is a transitive verb (so not a linking verb) and you is its direct object.)
Read more about subject complements.
Read more about linking verbs.

Objects are in the objective case.

Objects are always in the objective case. In English, this only affects pronouns (but not all pronouns).
  • She saw him.
  • (The pronoun him (the direct object of saw) is the objective-case version of he.)
  • Give them the money.
  • (The pronoun them (the indirect object of give) is the objective-case version of they.)
  • Dance with her.
  • (The pronoun her (the object of the preposition with) is the objective-case version of she.)
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 whoever/whomever.
whoeverwhomeverThis one causes errors.
Read about whoever/whomever.
Verbals can have direct objects too.

A verbal is a word derived from a verb. Verbals function as adjectives or nouns. Verbals can be 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 (in bold) with a direct object:
  • As a kid, I was made to walk the plank. We couldn’t afford a dog. (Comedian Gary Delaney)
  • (To walk is an infinitive. Q: To walk what? A: the plank)
Read more about infinitives.

Here is an example of a gerund (in bold) with a direct object:
  • Driving a time machine is annoying because your kids are always asking "Are we then yet?". (Comedian Paul Taylor)
  • (Driving is a gerund. Q: Driving what? A: a time machine)
Read more about gerunds.

Here is an example of a participle (in bold) with a direct object:
  • Watching the London Marathon, I notice one runner dressed as a chicken and another as an egg. I thought: "This could be interesting." (Comedian Paddy Lennox)
  • (Watching is a participle. Q: Watching what? A: the London Marathon)
Read more about participles.

Why Should I Care about Objects?

Yup, that's a lot of terminology for stuff you do naturally, but there are three good reasons to think more carefully about objects.

(Reason 1) Don't confuse who and whom.

Who is never an object, but whom always is. Use who for a subject but whom for an object. For example:
  • The paper slates whom?
  • (Whom as a direct object)
  • Show whom the money?
  • (Whom as an indirect object)
  • I met two rugby players, one of whom was a little too good at dancing.
  • (Whom as the object of a preposition.)
It's the same deal with whoever and whomever. Use whoever for the subject of a verb but whomever for an object.

This means who and whoever almost never follow a preposition. It can happen though.
  • Islam was interpreted to give the ruler absolute power, which was a convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler. (Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei)
  • (Here, even though it follows a preposition (for), whoever is correct. It's the subject of the noun clause whoever was the ruler.)
Writers never confuse pairings like he/him and they/them. Well, they're no different from the who/whom pairing.

(Reason 2) Use the correct verb after using an object of a preposition.

The object of a preposition cannot be the subject of a verb.
  • Lee's box of magazines are under the stairs.
  • Lee's box of magazines is under the stairs.
Don't be fooled by the proximity of the object of the preposition (here, magazines) to the verb. You must ensure the subject (here, box) and the verb agree in number.

However, the situation is different with some expressions (e.g., half of, a proportion of). With these, the object of the preposition does influence the verb.
  • Half of the cakes are missing.
  • (Here, cakes means that half is treated as plural.)
  • Half of the cake is missing.
  • (Here, of cake means that half is treated as singular.)
Read more about subject-verb agreement.

(Reason 3) Use if and whether correctly.

Writers are sometimes unsure whether to use if or whether after a preposition. Use whether.
  • It's a moral question about whether we have the right to exterminate species. (Naturalist Sir David Attenborough)
  • (Put another way: Use whether, not if, to head up a noun clause that's the object of a preposition.)
Read more about if and whether.
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See Also

What are nouns? What are pronouns? What are verbs? What are prepositions? What is a direct object? What is an indirect object? What is the object of a preposition? What are noun phrases? What are noun clauses? What are objective pronouns? More on who & whom Glossary of grammatical terms