What is an Indirect Object? Definition, Examples of Indirect Objects

Indirect object definition: An indirect object is a noun or pronoun to whom/what or for whom/what an action is completed. The indirect object receives the direct object of the sentence.

What is an Indirect Object?

What is an indirect object? An indirect object is always a noun, and a direct object must exist before an indirect object can exist.

An indirect object receives the direct object of the sentence.

Here is an example of a sentence WITHOUT an indirect object:

  • Stan built a house.
    • Stan built what?
      • A house.
        • House is the direct object.

Direct object indirect object exampleIn this example, house is the direct object. As I said above, a direct object must exist before an indirect object can exist. An indirect object may not be used without a direct object in the sentence.

Example of a sentence WITH an indirect object:

  • Stan built Julie a house.
    • Stan built what?
      • A house.
        • House is the direct object.
      • Stan built a house for whom?
          • Julie is the indirect object.

How to Find the Indirect Object

What is a indirect object pronounFinding an indirect object is fairly simple once the direct object has been identified.

To find a direct object, ask “what?” or “whom?” the verb is doing.

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

The indirect object will chronologically exist before the direct object in a sentence.

Indirect Object Examples:

  • Dan made her a cake.
    • Dan made what? A cake.
      • Cake is the direct object.
    • To whom/what or for whom/what did Dan make the cake? Her.
      • Her is the indirect object.
  • Martin read Maria the book.
    • Martin read what? The book.
      • Book is the direct object.
    • To whom did Martin read the book? To Maria.
      • Maria is the indirect object.

Direct Object vs. Indirect Object

When comparing direct vs. indirect objects, you need to look at what direct and indirect objects do in a sentence.

Direct Objects:

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

  • John threw Steve the ball.

What is it that John threw? He threw the ball.

Indirect Objects:

An indirect object receives the direct object.

  • John threw Steve the ball.

Who received the ball? Steve did.

If you ask yourself these questions, finding the direct object and indirect object is easy.

Object of Preposition vs. Indirect Object

what is indirect object pronounsIndirect objects are separate 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.

Example:

  • Darius bought a car for her.

In this example, it seems that “her” would be the indirect object. However, “her” is the object of the preposition “for.”

As noted, the indirect object will always come before the direct object in the sentence. In this example the direct object “a car” is placed before “her.” “Her” is the object of the preposition.

Only Transitive Verbs can Have Direct and Indirect Objects

Examples of indirect objectsOnly transitive verbs can have direct and/or indirect objects. That is, a direct and/or indirect object will only follow a transitive verb.

Intransitive verbs will not have indirect objects.

Simply by following the formula above, one can test whether the verb is transitive or intransitive.

Intransitive verbs will not answer the question “what?” or “whom?”.

Examples of Transitive Verbs:

  • Mason gave him the ball. (Mason gave what? The ball. To whom? Him.)
  • Lisa purchased her daughter clothes. (Lisa purchased what? Clothes. For whom? Her daughter.)

Examples of Intransitive Verbs:

  • The bird circled three times.
    • “Three times” does not answer “what?” or “whom?”.
    • “Circled” is an intransitive verb.
  • Polly raced down the street.
    • “Down the street” does not answer “what?” or “whom?”.
    • “Raced” is an intransitive verb.

Direct Object vs. Subject Complement

sentences with indirect objectsOnly transitive verbs can have direct and indirect objects. That is, direct and indirect objects will only ever follow a transitive verb.

Linking verbs will have a subject complement. A subject complement follows a linking verb.

Examples of Linking Verbs with Subject Complements:

  • Priya might become a pilot.
    • might become = linking verb; a pilot = subject complement
  • The food smelled delicious.
    • smelled = linking verb; delicious = subject complement
  • He remained the same.
    • remained = linking verb; same = subject complement

Even though in the above examples the subject complements seem to answer the question “what?”, they are not direct objects. Because the words follow linking verbs, they are subject complements.

Summary: What are Indirect Objects?

Define indirect object: the definition of indirect object is an object indirectly affected by the action of the verb. Below are a few key features of indirect objects.

An indirect object,

  • is a noun or a pronoun
  • receives the direct object
  • answers to whom/what or for whom/what
  • only follows transitive verbs
  • occurs chronologically before the direct object