1. What is an Indirect Object?
An indirect object of a sentence shows the recipient of the direct object. It basically tells us to whom/what or for whom/what something is done. An indirect object can be made up of one or more words, or a phrase, known as a prepositional phrase.
To find the indirect object of a sentence, you can simply ask “to whom/what” or “for whom/what” the verb is happening, depending on the subject of the sentence. The answer will always be the indirect object.
Indirect objects may sometimes be confused with direct objects, especially when they are both nouns. However they function in a totally different way. Moreover, an indirect object cannot exist in a sentence without a direct object before it, but a direct object can exist without an indirect object.
Indirect objects are used quite often in our daily conversations, especially when we are talking about giving, buying, showing, taking, making, paying, sending and lending. Most of the time we use them unknowingly.
To understand what the indirect object is and how it functions, you should have a clear understanding of how a direct object functions first. A direct object is the person or thing (noun) that receives the action of the verb:
- Anne bought a new car.
- Our father built a house.
- The teacher handed out the report cards.
The above sentences are formed with a
- subject (Anne, our father, the teacher)
- a verb (bought, built, handed out) and a
- direct object (a new car, a house, the report cards).
Now let’s add an indirect object to each of the above sentences and see what happens:
- Anne bought her son a new car.
- Our father built us a house.
- The teacher handed out the report cards to the students.
Notice that the sentences look a little more elaborate now, as there is more than one object in each.
Now let’s find the indirect object by creating the right questions. Let’s use “for whom” or “to whom” since each sentence refers to a person. The answer to each will be the indirect object:
- For whom did Anne buy a new car? (answer: her son)
- For whom did our father build a house? (answer: us)
- To whom did the teacher hand out the report cards? (answer: the students)
Isn’t it easier to locate the indirect object when asking a question with to or for?
3. Parts of an Indirect Object
As you may have noticed by now, not all indirect objects look the same. This is because they can be formed by using different parts of speech, such as:
A noun is a thing, person, animal or idea (desk, teacher, cat, friendship).
An adjective describes a noun (wooden, tired, happy, strong).
There are two articles in English: a/an and the. These are used before a noun.
- Personal Object Pronoun
A personal object pronoun takes the place of a person, animal or thing (me, him, her, it, us, them).
There are many prepositions in the English language, but in sentences that include an indirect object we usually see to and for. Prepositions are usually small words that precede verbs or nouns.
Using the previous examples, let’s dissect each indirect object and define it by parts of speech:
Anne bought her son a new car. → Her = adjective
→Son = noun
In this example, Ann’s son is the indirect object because he gets the “new car” (which is the direct object).
Our father built us a house. → Us = personal object pronoun
“Us” is the indirect object here because this word defines the receivers of the “house” (direct object).
The teacher handed out the report cards to the students.
→ to the students = prepositional phrase (made of a preposition + article + noun)
In this final example, the prepositional phrase “to the students” functions as the indirect object because the students received the report cards (direct object).
This by no means implies that you should always use the above grammatical components to create an indirect object. These are just some ways an indirect object can be created.
4. Types of Indirect Objects
As mentioned in our introduction, there are three types of indirect objects, just as there are three ways to create them:
- Using one word (a noun or pronoun)
- Using two or more words (article + noun, adjective + noun)
- Using a prepositional phrase
a. Using One Word as an Indirect Object
Various words can be used as indirect objects within a sentence. The most common words that are used on their own are:
Nouns are used as indirect objects quite commonly. We usually see them in the form of a name or person.
- They bought Jim the gift he always wanted.
“Jim” receives the “gift” (direct object), which is why he is the indirect object.
- The headmaster gave Sarah the Student of the Year award.
“Sarah” received the “Student of the Year award” (direct object), so she is the indirect object of the sentence.
b. Personal Object Pronouns
Personal Object Pronouns are used as indirect objects when we do not want to mention a name or other noun, for whatever reason.
- The policeman gave him a very suspicious look.
“Him” is the recipient of the “suspicious look” (direct object), so it is also the indirect object of the sentence.
- My brother used to build me sandcastles as a child.
Here, “me” is the indirect object of the sentence because it describes the recipient of the direct object (which is the word “sandcastles”).
c. Using Two or More Words as Indirect Objects
Sometimes more than one word is needed to create an indirect object. There is no set rule for using more than one word. However, using multiple words helps define, describe, and make more sense of the object.
Article + Noun
An article and noun can be used together to create an indirect object of a sentence. You cannot use an article on its own, or a noun on its own for such a purpose.
- The doctor wrote the patient a prescription. → the = article
→ patient = noun
“The patient” is the indirect object of the sentence because it describes the person who got the direct object “a prescription”.
- She showed the library teacher her ID card. → the = article
→library = noun, functions as an adjective
→teacher = noun
“The library teacher” is the indirect object of the sentence because he/she is the recipient of the direct object “her ID card”.
Adjective + Noun
You can use different types of adjectives to describe the indirect objects and give the readers more information. For instance, you can use adjectives that show possession (possessive adjective) to substitute an article (as shown above) that precedes a noun. Using such an adjective makes the noun more personal in relation to the subject.
Note: You can use two adjectives if the first adjective shows possession.
He pitched his tall opponent a curve-ball. → his = adjective (possessive)
→ tall = adjective
→ opponent = noun
“His tall opponent” is the indirect object of the sentence because he is the recipient of the direct object “a curve-ball”.
- Sarah made bushing brides their dream dresses. → blushing = adjective (possessive)
→ brides= noun
The phrase “blushing brides” is the indirect object of the sentence because they are the receivers of the direct object “their dream dresses”.
- She taught her English students indirect objects. → her = adjective (possessive)
→ English = adjective
→ students = noun
The phrase “Her English students” is the indirect object of the sentence because it describes the receivers of the direct object “indirect objects”.
d. Using a Prepositional Phrase as an Indirect Object
A prepositional phrase always begins with a preposition. In the case of indirect objects, those prepositions are to or for.
- He passed the ball to his teammate. → to = preposition
→ his = adjective (possessive)
→ teammate = noun
“His teammate” is the indirect object in the form of a prepositional phrase, beginning with the word “to.” The phrase is the indirect object because it shows the receiver of the direct object “the ball”.
- They ordered a pizza for Amy. → for = preposition
→ Amy = noun
“Amy” is the indirect object in the form of a prepositional phrase, beginning with “for.” In this case, “Amy” gets the direct object “a pizza”.
Now that you know the components of a sentence that contains an indirect object, you can try creating your own sentences.
5. How to Write a Sentence with an Indirect Object
We use indirect objects all the time and mostly without knowing it. So, creating a sentence with an indirect object is most likely easier than you think. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of forming an actual sentence, why not recap by asking yourself the following:
- Do you know the difference between a direct and indirect object?
- Do you know what kind of words can be used as indirect objects?
- Do you know what question to ask in order to locate the indirect object within the sentence?
If you’re still a little confused, don’t worry. Practice makes perfect, and the following warm-up will get you acquainted with the exact process of forming a grammatically correct sentence even if the grammatical terms are still a bit hard to understand.
To makes things simpler, think of a sentence right now that includes:
- A person (let’s call him the donor)
- An action (such as give, tell, make)
- A receiver
- A thing that is given (or lent or made, etc)
The sentence should look something like this:
Donor + Action + Receiver + Thing
Jot your own sentence down and observe it. Essentially, and based on the instructions you followed above, what you just created in grammatical terms is:
Subject + Verb + Indirect Object + Direct Object
Mom + gave + me + milk
To confirm that you have indeed formed the sentence correctly, you can observe the sentence and ask yourself:
- Is the direct object located as shown above? Yes
- Is the indirect object located as shown above? Yes
- If I ask a question using to whom / to what or for whom / for what, is the answer the indirect object? Yes
This is a simple way to get you started with creating sentences that include one or more words as an indirect object.
a. Using a Prepositional Phrase to Form a Sentence
If you remember what a prepositional phrase looks like, try to create a sentence based on the following guideline:
Donor + Action + Thing + To/For + Receiver
What you will essentially have created in grammatical terms is:
Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Preposition + Indirect Object
Where: Preposition + Indirect Object = Prepositional Phrase
The teacher + gave + an award + to + James
How do you feel about creating your first indirect objects within two very different sentences?