Sunday, September 14, 2008

Objects: Direct or Not

Direct and indirect objects create some confusion in the study of English grammar. In essence, a direct object receives the action of a verb, while an indirect object is involved more obliquely. If you write, "I sent the results to Bob," the results act as a direct object, since they are what you sent. Bob is an indirect object.

The source of the confusion lies in the argument that Bob received the results and thus it sounds perfectly direct. But the prepositional phrase "to Bob" acts as the indirect object because Bob wasn't sent, the results were. The phrase modifies the verb, explaining the direction of the action but not the actual object on which the verb acts.

Remember that you can only have a direct object with a transitive verb. That's one way to figure out whether your sentence contains a direct object. If you can create a full sentence with only the subject and verb (e.g. "I slept"), then the rest of the sentence is comprised of adverbs and adjectives, probably.

Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Some words act as both transitive and intransitive verbs, depending on the sentence. I told you this was confusing. To decide whether your sentence contains a direct object, you'll have to consider the elements rather than depending on rules of thumb. Why should you care? That's a topic for another day.