Difference between a Direct Object and an Indirect Object

December 9, 2016 by Editorial Team

While the technicalities of the English language may be very complex, it is certainly not impossible to get a grasp of how it works. English grammar has a lot of confusing parts, and this article will focus on one: the difference between a direct object and an indirect object.

Definitions

Direct Object vs Indirect Object
An example of a direct object and indirect object

A direct object is part of the predicate and is usually a noun, objective pronoun (me, you, him, her, it, and us), or a phrase which answers the questions “what?” or “who?” To better explain this, here are some examples:

  1. Veronica loves expensive dolls. To find the direct object, we can use the verb as the point of reference in asking the question “Veronica loves what?” The answer would be “expensive dolls,” which is the direct object.
  2. Betty baked oatmeal cookies yesterday. If we ask, “What did Betty bake yesterday?” the answer would be “oatmeal cookies,” which is the direct object.
  3. She discovered a bag of cash last night. If we ask “What did she discover?” the answer is “a bag of cash,” so it is the direct object in this sentence.

Moreover, it is important to note that a direct object follows an action verb and not a linking verb. If the object follows the words “was,” “is,” “are” or “were,” it is not a direct object but a subject complement. For instance, in the sentence “He is glad to see his crush,” the verb is “is” which is a linking verb. The word “glad” in this sentence is not a direct object but a subject complement.

An indirect object is a noun or pronoun that receives the direct object. It answers the questions “for whom?” and “to whom?” the action is, so it sometimes is part of a prepositional phrase that start with “for” or “to,” especially when the indirect object is a pronoun. Note the examples below:

  1. Reggie lost his job, so Ethel bought the couch for him. If we ask, “What did Ethel buy?” the answer is “the couch,” which is the direct object. The indirect object is “him” which answers the question “for whom (did she buy the couch)?”
  2. The manager paid Sabrina $10,000.The answer to the question “to whom?” in this sentence is “Sabrina,” the indirect object.
  3. I gave Cherry my used clothes.To whom did I give my used clothes? “Cherry” is the indirect object in this sentence.

Direct Object vs Indirect Object

What, then, is the difference between a direct object and an indirect object?

A direct object receives the action verb while an indirect object receives the direct object. To make it simple, a direct object answers the questions “what?” or “who?” while an indirect object answers the questions “to whom?” or “for whom?”

Additionally, a direct object normally follows an action verb, while an indirect object sometimes follows the prepositions “to” or “for.”

Comparison Chart

Direct ObjectIndirect Object
Receives the action verb; answers the questions “what?” or “who?”Receives the direct object; answers the questions “to whom?” or “for whom?”
Usually follows an action verbSometimes follows the prepositions “for” or “to”