Direct Objects: What is a Direct Object? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on March 22, 2023

'Direct objects' is a term you'll often hear in grammar circles. But what are they? And why do you need to know? Well, that's what you're about to find out.

In short:

  • A direct object is the thing that receives the verb's action. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What’s A Direct Object?

In this article, we'll not only explore what it means to have direct objects in sentences, but we'll also learn about other grammatical concepts that are relevant to the topic. As it turns out, knowing what a direct object is can help you with a bunch of other things, too, such as choosing the right pronoun. But more on that later.

Direct Object Meaning

In any basic sentence, you'll have a subject and a verb, and often, also, an object. There are two types of objects: direct and indirect. Today we're just talking about direct objects. The role each element plays in a sentence is as follows:

  • The subject performs the action
  • The verb is the action performed
  • The direct object is the thing having the action performed on it

To illustrate, in the following sentence, 'dog' is the subject (performs the action), 'chases' is the verb (the action performed), and 'ball' is the direct object (the thing being chased).

The dog chases the ball.

The direct object is always a noun.

A handy trick to find the direct object in a sentence is to ask, "To what/whom is the verb being done?". Try to practice with the following sentences.

I'm drinking sparkling water.
(What is being drunk? Sparkling water)

He saw Sharon at the bank.
(Whom did he see? Sharon)

Can you play guitar?
(What can you play? Guitar)

Phrases And Clauses As Direct Objects

Sometimes a direct object is a single word, like 'dog' in our earlier example of "The dog chases the ball."

Other times, however, a direct object can also be an entire phrase or clause. No matter what, the direct object is always a noun, whether that's a single noun, a pronoun, a noun phrase, or a noun clause.

Let's take a look at a sentence with a noun clause as the direct object.

Peter hates walking his dog when it's raining.

Peter doesn't hate walking, and he doesn't hate walking his dog. He specifically hates walking his dog when it's raining. So the direct object has to be the complete clause.

Now here's an example of a noun phrase as a direct object:

 Sally bought a box of vegan crossants for everyone at the office to enjoy.

Sally didn't just buy a box, and she didn't just buy croissants. She bought a box of vegan croissants. So the whole phrase has to be the direct object.

Gerunds as Direct Objects

Gerunds look like verbs, so they can be a little confusing. However, they are actually nouns, which means that you'll come across gerunds which are direct objects.

Here's an article on gerunds if you need a refresher.

Often you'll find that in a sentence that has a gerund as an object, the verb is a stative verb, otherwise known as 'a feeling verb.'

I like living in the city.

In the above example, the gerund phrase 'living in the city' is the object of the verb 'living.'

They can also be the direct object of action verbs, however:

He continued making dinner while the others chatted.

Infinitives as Direct Objects

Infinitives can also act as nouns, which means they can be a verb's direct object.

I prefer to think of it as the glass half full.

In the above sentence, the infinitive 'to think' takes on the role of a noun and the direct object of the verb 'prefer' in this example.

Just make sure you don't confuse the 'to' in an infinitive acting as the direct object with the 'to' in a prepositional phrase.

We aren't ready to leave yet.

Pronouns as Direct Objects

As you know, pronouns are little words that replace nouns.

As you also know, there are two different types of pronouns - subject pronouns and object pronouns.

If you need a little refresher on pronouns, check out our article on pronouns.

Basically, what this means is that you'll always have a choice between two pronouns to refer to the same thing or person. Which one you choose will depend on whether the noun you're replacing is the subject or the object of the sentence.

Here's a list of subject personal pronouns:

  • I
    First-person singular
  • You
    Second person singular
  • He, she, it
    Third person singular
  • We
    First-person plural
  • You
    Second person plural
  • They
    Third person plural

And here are the object person pronouns:

  • Me
    First-person singular
  • You
    Second person singular
  • Him, her, it
    Third person singular
  • Us
    First-person plural
  • You
    Second person plural
  • Them
    Third person plural 

That second list is the one that's relevant to use today. That's because if you're using the pronoun to replace a direct object, you should use the object pronoun. 

For example:

I'm meeting Sally at the apartment later. I'll give her the keys then.

Sally is the direct object in both these sentences. In the second sentence, instead of repeating the proper noun "Sally," we're using a pronoun instead. Since Sally is the object and not the subject ('I' is the subject), we use the direct object 'her.'

Here's another sentence to illustrate:

I've lost my cat; have you seen him?

Each clause here has the same direct object: the cat / him.

A Note on Who/Whom

I couldn't write an article about objects and not to mention the ever-elusive 'who'/'whom' conundrum. This one trips people up constantly - native and ESL speakers.

But the good news is that if you've followed everything I've said so far, then this is gonna be pretty simple for you:

  • Use 'who' if referring to the subject
  • Use 'whom' if referring to the object

Here are some example sentences where we use 'whom' because it is the object of the sentence:

Do you even know this man with whom you're commiting to spending the rest of your life?

I can hear him mumbling but I'm not sure to whom he is talking.

I'm going on vacation with a group of people, one of whom is my best friend. 

The Relationship Between Direct Objects and Verbs

Objects and verbs have a very special relationship. After all, how one behaves determines how the other one does. There are a few things to know about verbs as they pertain to direct objects. The first has to do with transitive vs intransitive verbs.

Direct Objects and Transitive Verbs

The important thing to note about direct objects is that they can only be found in sentences with transitive verbs.

All verbs can be categorized into two categories: transitive and intransitive. Transitive verbs perform the action on a direct object; intransitive verbs do not have a direct object.

Transitive verbs need a direct object. Imagine if you said, for example, "We climbed." This sentence, though technically a correct sentence, doesn't make any sense. To climb is a transitive verb, and therefore, it needs a direct object.

Here are some examples of transitive verbs.

  • Need
  • Love
  • Buy

Think about it: none of these verbs could stand alone. You always need something, love something and buy something.

We need more onions.

She loves strawberries.

I'm going to buy a new drill

Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, can absolutely stand alone. Their action isn't directed towards something; it just is.

Here are a few examples of intransitive verbs:

  • Swim
  • Laugh
  • Vote

Notice how these verbs can't possibly have an object. You can't swim something. You can swim in something, but that's differentYou're not performing the action of swimming onto a direct object. In the sentence "I'm swimming in the lake," 'in the lake' isn't a direct object, but it is a prepositional phrase.

We laughed so much during the comedy show.
(prepositional phrase "during the comedy show"
not a direct object)

I'm going to vote for the party that best represents my views.
(prepositional phrase "for the party that best represents my views"
not a direct object)

Direct Objects Vs Complements

Linking verbs are a particular category of verbs that don't describe an action but rather a state of being. Some common linking verbs are:

  • seem
  • be
  • feel

Linking verbs have no object, just like intransitive verbs. But they do have complements, and those can sometimes look a little like an object. For example:

She is a superhero.

Here, the noun 'superhero' follows the verb 'be,' which can make it seem like a direct object. But it isn't: it's a compliment.

Examples Of Direct Objects In A Sentence

Well, that pretty much sums it up when it comes to direct objects. The best thing to do now is to look at tons of examples of direct objects in a sentence and practice detecting them. After all, practice makes perfect. So to help get you started, I'm going to show you a bunch of sentences and underline their direct object.

She enjoyed the article about direct objects.

I haven't checked my emails all day.

He's avoiding doing his homework.

As an organization we want to avoid borrowing too much money.

This summer I want to go swimming as often as possible. 

I like to color in my coloring book.

The teacher is explaining the rules.

We saved up and bought a gorgeous Victorian style mansion.

Have you fixed the roof?

I've written a letter to the President.

Concluding Thoughts

Well, that concludes this article on direct objects. I hope it was helpful to you.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Direct objects receive the verb's action.
  • Phrases and clauses can be direct objects, as well as a single word.
  • The direct object is always a noun, which can include gerunds, pronouns, and infinitives.
  • Only transitive verbs can have direct objects.

If you found this article helpful, you'll enjoy our free online Grammar Book, where we cover various grammar concepts, explaining complicated topics in an easy-to-understand way.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.