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The Indirect Object in English Grammar

Indirect objects are words, phrases, and clauses that follow a ditransitive verb and indicate to or for whom or what the action of the verb is performed. Sentences with indirect objects must also have direct objects. Although nouns and noun phrases most frequently function as the indirect objects of sentences, four grammatical forms can perform the grammatical function of indirect object in the English language. The four grammatical forms that can function as the indirect object are:

  1. Noun phrases
  2. Noun clauses
  3. Verb phrases
  4. Prepositional phrases

Noun Phrases as Indirect Objects

The first grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of indirect object is the noun phrase. Noun phrases are defined as phrases formed by a noun or pronoun plus any determinatives, modifiers, and complements including determiners, adjectives, prepositions, and verbs. For example, the following the following italicized noun phrases function as indirect objects:

  • The woman gave the cat a bath.
  • My husband bought me flowers.
  • The applicant mailed the university her resume.
  • The student has shown his classmates his project.

Noun phrases are the most frequent grammatical form that function as indirect objects.

Noun Clauses as Indirect Objects

The second grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of indirect object is the noun clause. Noun clauses are defined as subordinate clauses formed by an independent clause preceded by a subordinating conjunction. A clause is defined as consisting of a subject and a predicate. For example, the following italicized noun clauses function as indirect objects:

  • My parents gave that I want to go to the party some thought.
  • I gave that you wanted me to prepare dinner a little consideration.
  • You should have given what your parents said both thought and consideration.
  • The teacher gave that all his students failed the test some serious reflection.

Verb Phrases as Indirect Objects

The third grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of indirect object is the verb phrase in the form of present participles. Verb phrases are defined as phrases formed by a verb plus any modifiers, complements, particles, or infinitive markers. For example, the following italicized verb phrases function as indirect objects:

  • The child gave reading the book some consideration.
  • I had given preparing dinner some thought.
  • You should give showering daily a try.
  • My grandmother is giving returning to college serious consideration.

Present participles that perform nominal functions such as the indirect object are often referred to as gerunds.

Prepositional Phrases as Indirect Objects

The fourth grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of indirect object is the prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases are defined as phrases formed by a preposition directly followed by a prepositional complement such as a noun phrase. For example, the following italicized prepositional phrases function as indirect objects:

  • My mom gave under the bed a good scrubbing.
  • He has given behind the house some thought.
  • The contractor will give in the garage some consideration.
  • You need to give above the refrigerator a cleaning.

The four grammatical forms that can function as the indirect object in the English language are noun phrases, noun clauses, verb phrases, and prepositional phrases.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Dwyer, Bernar T. 2000. Modern English structures: Form, function, and position. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

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