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Indirect Objects

If a verb has a direct object, it can also have an indirect object. An indirect object tells to whom or for whom the action of the verb was done.

SubjectVerbIndirect ObjectDirect Object
JorgemailedClaricea letter. (To whom did he send it? To Clarice.)
Juliaboughther sistera bicycle. (For whom did she buy it? For her sister.)

Indirect objects are usually living beings like people or animals, but direct objects can be either people or things. If a verb has only one object, it will be a direct object.

Indirect objects usually come between the verb and the direct object. It is possible to restate these sentences using the prepositions to and for. While we can still think of the word following the preposition as an indirect object, some grammarians would say that the indirect object has instead become the object of a preposition.

SubjectVerbDirect ObjectIndirect Object
Jorgemaileda letterto Clarice.
Juliaboughta bicyclefor her sister.

Look at the following sentences. Do they have indirect objects?

  1. Carol called Mike a liar.
  2. Carol called Mike a cab.
  3. Picasso’s talent made him famous.
  4. Picasso’s paintings give me pleasure.

In Sentence 1, Mike is a direct object. In Sentence 2, Mike is an indirect object. So, how can we tell the difference? To determine if a word is an indirect object, try placing it at the end of the sentence with the word to or for.

  • Carol called a liar for Mike. Carol called a liar to Mike.
  • (This makes no sense, unless Mike suddenly needs to find a liar; therefore, Mike is a direct object.)
  • Carol called a cab for Mike.
  • (This sentence still makes sense; therefore, Mike is an indirect object.)

In Sentence 1, liar does not function as a direct object. Instead, it is an object complement of the direct object Mike. Object complements describe, modify, or rename direct objects. Try the test on Sentences 3 and 4.

  • Picasso’s talent made famous for him or to him.
  • Picasso’s paintings give pleasure to me.

Sentence 3 does not have an indirect object; famous is an object complement. Sentence 4 does have a direct object (pleasure) and an indirect object (me).

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