The Indirect Object

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Some verbs occur with two Objects:

We gave [John] [a present]

Here, the NP a present undergoes the "action" (a present is what is given). So a present is the Direct Object. We refer to the NP John as the INDIRECT OBJECT.

Indirect Objects usually occur with a Direct Object, and they always come before the Direct Object. The typical pattern is:

Subject -- Verb -- Indirect Object -- Direct Object

Here are some more examples of sentences containing two objects:

  Indirect Object Direct Object
Tell me a story
He showed us his war medals
We bought David a birthday cake
Can you lend your colleague a pen?

Verbs which take an Indirect Object and a Direct Object are known as DITRANSITIVE verbs. Verbs which take only a Direct Object are called MONOTRANSITIVE verbs. The verb tell is a typical ditransitive verb, but it can also be monotransitive:


Indirect Object

Direct Object

Ditransitive David told the children a story
Monotransitive David told   a story

As we've seen, an Indirect Object usually co-occurs with a Direct Object. However, with some verbs an Indirect Object may occur alone:

David told the children

although we can usually posit an implicit Direct Object in such cases:

David told the children the news

Realisations of the Indirect Object

NPs are the most common realisations of the Indirect Object. It is a typical function of pronouns in the objective case, such as me, him, us, and them.

Less commonly, a clause will function as Indirect Object:

David told whoever saw her to report to the police


More on Form and Function...


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