Indirect Objects: What Are Indirect Objects? Definition and Examples

By
Carly Forsaith,
updated on
March 31, 2023

Are you wondering what indirect objects are? An important part of the English language, indirect objects appear in many of your sentences. This article will teach you more about them.

In short:

  •  The indirect object of a sentence is the thing that receives the direct object.

To learn more and discover how to spot them in your sentences, read on.

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Are Indirect Objects?

Indirect objects can be a little confusing, particularly when trying to differentiate them from direct objects. But they are actually quite distinct, and there are nifty tricks you can use to tell them apart.

In this article, you'll learn how to find indirect objects and the rules for using them, and the difference between direct and indirect objects.

But first, what is an indirect object? In simple words, it's the thing or person that receives the direct object of the sentence. That's why it's much easier if you know what a direct object is. So let's have a quick review.

Direct and Indirect Objects

First and foremost, you'll want to understand the difference between a direct object and an indirect object.

It's simple, really:

  • A direct object receives the verb's action and
  • The indirect object receives the direct object.

In a sentence, it looks like this:

Ben cooked Fiona dinner.

In the above example:

  • The direct object is 'dinner' because it's the thing receiving the verb's action (being cooked).
  • Fiona is the indirect object because she is the thing receiving the direct object (dinner).

You can't have an indirect object without a direct object. Think about it: if there's no direct object to be received, how can the indirect object receive it? You can, however, have a sentence that contains a direct object but no indirect object. In fact, it's pretty common.

What Do Indirect Objects Look Like?

An indirect object can be just one word, or it can be a phrase. If it's a single word, it'll be a noun or a pronoun.

Single Words as Direct Objects

In our earlier example, the indirect object was a proper noun - 'Fiona.'

It can also be a regular noun, like 'the library':

Jane paid the library the late return fee.

And it can also be a pronoun, like 'him':

I showed him my scars.

Pronouns as Indirect Objects

If you do use a pronoun for your indirect object, make sure it's an indirect pronoun from the following list:

  • Me
  • You
  • Him/her/them/it
  • Us
  • You (plural)
  • Them

Be careful never to use a direct pronoun, as that will not only be wrong, but it will also sound wrong:

My brother loaned she the car.
My brother her the car.

Sam bought they a toaster for their wedding present.
Sam bought them a toaster for their wedding present.

The neighbors threw we an amazing party.
The neighbors threw us an amazing party.

Then there are reflexive pronouns. You use those if the subject and indirect object is the same.

I gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done.

Here the subject is 'I,' and the indirect object is 'I' as well. But instead of saying, "I gave I a pat on the back," which doesn't sound very pretty, we use reflexive pronouns. In the sentence above, the reflexive pronoun 'myself' is the indirect object.

Here's a list of all the reflexing pronouns in English:

  • Myself
  • Yourself
  • Himself/herself/itself
  • Ourselves
  • Yourselves
  • Themselves

Phrases as Indirect Objects

As I mentioned, you'll also see phrases as indirect objects—specifically, noun phrases.

Let's have a look at a few examples.

The indirect object is highlighted in bold.

They served all the hotel's guests an amazing meal.

The city decided to award each high school student a certificate of bravery.

She threw her best friend the best birthday party ever.

How to Find an Indirect Object

If you want to know where to find the indirect object in a sentence or where to put it if you're the one writing it, then there's a simple answer for you: it goes right after the verb and before the direct object.

Case in point:

Can you read me a chapter?

In the above sentence, 'read' is the verb, and 'a chapter' is the direct object. See how the indirect object 'me' is wedged in between.

So, to find the direct object, first look for the direct object by asking:

"What or whom is being verbed?"

Then, to find the indirect object, you'll ask:

 "To what or whom is it being done?"

So let's take it step-by-step using the above example:

What is the verb? read

What is being verbed (read)? a chapter

To what/whom is the chapter read? me

Therefore the direct object is 'a chapter' and the indirect object is 'me.'

Let's try that again with a different example.

Sally owed Lassie her life.

What is the verb? owed

What is being verbed (owed)? her life

To what/whom is the life owed? Lassie

Therefore the direct object is 'her life,' and the indirect object is 'Lassie.'

Indirect Object or Object of the Preposition?

There's an area of disagreement in the world of indirect objects, and that's the difference between an indirect object and an object of the preposition.

Take the following example:

Can you read a chapter to me?

Some would say that 'me' is still the indirect object here since it's still the person receiving the direct object 'chapter.' But others would argue that because it's preceded by the preposition 'to' and it's placed after the direct object, not before it, it should be called an object of the preposition and that it doesn't count as an indirect object.

Which of the two is it? That's kind of up to you. What makes the most sense in your mind? You're welcome to decide for yourself or consult your usual style guide.

Which style you use - indirect object alone or indirect object preceded by a preposition - is also up to you.

Using a preposition has the advantage of giving you more control over where in the sentence you want the indirect object to be. But it has the disadvantage of not being considered an indirect object by some.

Indirect Objects and Verbs

As you may already know, there are different types of verbs in the English language, and not all of them work well with indirect objects.

Let's find which ones do, which ones don't, and why.

Ditransitive Verbs

The only types of verb that you'll find in the same sentence as an indirect object are ditransitive. Transitive and intransitive verbs are incompatible with indirect objects.

In case you need a refresher:

  • Transitive verbs need an indirect object but can't take an indirect object.
  • Intransitive verbs have no object at all.
  • Ditransitive can have both a direct and an indirect object.

The thing about ditransitive verbs, though, is that they don't need an indirect object. So you might still see them with just a direct object or with no object at all. But if there is an indirect object, then you can be sure that the verb is ditransitive.

Linking Verbs

Indirect objects are not compatible with linking verbs. As a reminder, linking verbs don't indicate an action; they are more descriptive in nature.

Here are some linking verbs:

  • Be
  • Become
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Look
  • Seem

As I mentioned earlier, indirect objects need a direct object, and a direct object needs an action. So if there's no action, there can be no direct object, which means there can be no indirect object.

Examples of Indirect Objects

Okay, now that we've covered the basics, The best way to learn to recognize indirect objects and know where to place them in your own sentences is with practice. On that note, let's have a look at some more examples of sentences with an indirect object.

He gave the whole house a spring clean.

Don't ask me questions because I don't have answers.

She made him a hot cup of coffee.

I got our dogs some Easter treats.

The boy gave his new friend his favorite truck to play with.

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on indirect objects. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned about indirect objects:

  • A person or thing that is receiving the direct object;
  • It can be a noun, pronoun, or phrase;
  • Are placed directly after the verb and before the direct object;
  • They are compatible with ditransitive verbs only.

If you found this article, head to our free online Grammar Book where you'll find complex grammatical concepts simplified.

Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. 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.

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