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indirect objects

Action verbs can take two kinds of objects: direct and indirect objects. Indirect objects normally appear only in sentences containing a direct object. An indirect object receives the action in the verb indirectly, by receiving the direct object.

Direct object: a brief review

A direct object is the direct receiver of the action expressed in the action verb. A direct object answers the question what? or whom? after an action verb.

Here’s an example of a sentence with a direct object:

  • Katak deftly skinned the slain caribou.

In this sentence, the action verb is skinned. If you ask skinned what?, the answer is the caribou. Therefore, caribou is the direct object of the verb skinned.

Note: Sentences that contain a direct object do not necessarily contain an indirect object. In the example above, for instance, there is no indirect object.

Indirect object

A sentence that contains an action verb and a direct object may also contain an indirect object. The indirect object is the indirect receiver of the action expressed in the verb.

Here’s an example of a sentence with a direct object and an indirect object:

  • Amanda baked Jason a cake.

The action verb is baked. You can first find the direct object by asking baked what? The answer, of course, is a cake. Cake is therefore the direct object because it is the direct receiver of the action of baking: it was the cake (and not Jason) that was baked.

But Jason indirectly received the action of baking because he got the cake, the thing that was baked. Therefore, the word Jason is the indirect object of the verb baked.

Finding the indirect object in a sentence

Here are two tips that will help you find the indirect object in a sentence.

First, the indirect object comes between the verb and the direct object. In the sentence Amanda baked Jason a cake, Jason comes between the verb baked and the direct object cake.

Second, the indirect object can be reworded as a phrase beginning with to or for. You could reword the above example using for:

  • Amanda baked a cake for Jason.

Rewording using a phrase beginning with for is a sign that Jason was an indirect object in the original sentence.

Here are some more examples of sentences containing indirect objects:

  • Karl tossed Greta an apple. [Reword: Karl tossed an apple to Greta.]

Action verb: tossed
Direct object: apple (Tossed what? An apple.)
Indirect object: Greta, who got the apple

  • Avril gave her Mercedes a wax job. [Reword: Avril gave a wax job to her Mercedes.]

Action verb: gave
Direct object: wax job (Gave what? A wax job.)
Indirect object: Mercedes, which got the wax job

  • Sanjay cooks us delicious Indian meals. [Reword: Sanjay cooks delicious Indian meals for us.]

Action verb: cooks
Direct object: meals (Cooks what? Meals.)
Indirect object: us, who get the meals