Direct object definition: A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of the sentence.
What is a Direct Object?
A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of the sentence. The direct object answers “whom?” or “what?” in regards to the verb.
Direct Object Examples:
- Jan drinks coffee.
- Jan drinks what?
- What is the direct object? Coffee is the direct object.
- Jan drinks what?
The direct object in a sentence is always a noun. Although, it may be a form of a noun such as a pronoun, noun clause, or noun phrase. However, a direct object will always function as a noun.
A direct object also always follows a transitive verb.
How to find the direct object
A simple formula can help identify a direct object.
- Subject + Action Verb + What? or Whom?
- What? or Whom? = Direct Object
Example of Direct Object Sentence Formula:
- Jan (subject) + hit (action verb) + the ball (what? or whom? ).
- ball = direct object.
Different Kinds of Direct Objects
Noun as a Direct Object:
- Jan drinks coffee.
- Jan drinks what? “Coffee” is the direct object.
Pronoun as Direct Object:
- Damien played it.
- Damien played what? “It” is the direct object.
Note about pronouns: Pronouns can only be used once an antecedent has been identified.
Compound Direct Objects (more than one noun):
- Tina ate apples and bananas.
- Tina ate what? “Apples and bananas” are the direct objects.
A Noun Phrase Can Be a Direct Object:
- Jan hates drinking cold coffee.
- Jan hates what? “Drinking cold coffee” is the direct object.
- These crosscurrents highlight the challenge facing policy makers at the Federal Reserve as they weigh whether to raise interest rates when they meet in mid-June, or wait until July or later in the year. –The New York Times
- These crosscurrents highlight what? “the challenge facing policy makers” is the direct object.
Note: The first example uses a gerund phrase as the direct object.
A Noun Clause Can Be a Direct Object:
- The student admitted that he skipped class.
- The student admitted what? “That he skipped class” is the direct object.
Only Transitive Verbs Can Have Direct Objects
Only transitive verbs can have direct objects. That is, a direct object will only follow a transitive verb.
Intransitive verbs do not take objects, so they will never have direct objects. See more on intransitive verbs here.
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:
- Jason picked Manny. (Jason picked whom? Manny.)
- Phoebe ate ice cream. (Phoebe ate what? Ice cream.)
Examples of Intransitive Verbs:
- We arrived at the terminal.
- “At the terminal” does not answer “what?” or “whom?”.
- “Arrived” is an intransitive verb.
- I jumped across the pond.
- “Across the pond” does not answer “what?” or “whom?”.
- “Jumped” is an intransitive verb.
Direct Object vs. Subject Complement
As we mentioned above, only transitive verbs can have direct objects. That is, a direct object will only follow a transitive verb.
Linking verbs, on the other hand, oftentimes have subject complements. A subject complement is something that follows a linking verb and looks similar to a direct object but is different.
Examples of linking verbs with subject complements:
- Smita was happy.
- was = linking verb; happy = subject complement
- Leo seemed confused.
- seemed = linking verb; confused = subject complement
- Raj is a writer.
- is = linking verb; writer = subject complement
Even though in the above examples the subject complements seem to answer the question “what?”, they are not direct objects. Since the words follow linking verbs, they are subject complements.
Here’s why they aren’t direct objects: Direct objects receive the action of the sentence. Another way to think about this is that the direct object of a verb is the thing that is being acted up.
Linking verbs, however, are not action verbs, so there is no action taking place. Linking verbs connect a subject to its predicate without taking any action; they simply re-identify or describe the subject in a different way.
For more information on linking verbs, see here.
Subject Pronouns Cannot be Direct Objects
What is a direct object pronoun? Subject pronouns cannot be direct objects. Only object pronouns can be direct objects.
A subject pronoun (see list below) must be used as a subject. A subject pronoun will always complete the action in the sentence.
An object pronoun (see list below) must be used as a direct object. An object pronoun will always receive the action in the sentence.
Sentence Without Pronouns:
- Tony likes Tera.
Sentence Replaced with Subject and Object Pronouns:
- He likes her.
Note: “He likes she” is unacceptable English grammar. Object pronouns must be used as objects.
Summary: What are Direct Objects?
Define direct object: the definition of direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action of the sentence.
A direct object will always follow a transitive verb. A direct object is always a noun or another part of speech functioning as a noun.
Here are a few final examples of sentences with direct objects.
- The dog chased the car.
- The boy hit the ball.
- Our family ate dinner.