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The Indirect Object

Recognize an indirect object when you see one.

Indirect objects are rare. You can read for pages before you encounter one. For an indirect object to appear, a sentence must first have a direct object.

Direct objects follow transitive verbs [a type of action verb]. If you can identify the subject and verb in a sentence, then finding the direct object—if one exists—is easy. Just remember this simple formula:

subject + verb + what? or who? = direct object

Here are examples of the formula in action:

Jim built a sandcastle on the beach.

Jim = subject; built = verb. Jim built what? Sandcastle = direct object.

Sammy and Maria brought Billie Lou to the party.

Sammy, Maria = subject; brought = verb. Sammy and Maria brought who? Billie Lou = direct object.

To explain the broken lamp, we told a lie.

We = subject; told = verb. We told what? Lie = direct object.

When someone [or something] gets the direct object, that word is the indirect object. Look at these new versions of the sentences above:

Jim built his granddaughter a sandcastle on the beach.

Jim = subject; built = verb. Jim built what? Sandcastle = direct object. Who got the sandcastle? Granddaughter = indirect object.

So that Darren would have company at the party, Sammy and Maria brought him a blind date.

Sammy, Maria = subjects; brought = verb. Sammy and Maria brought who? Blind date = direct object. Who got the blind date? Him = indirect object.

To explain the broken lamp, we told Mom a lie.

We = subject; told = verb. We told what? Lie = direct object. Who got the lie? Mom = indirect object.

Sometimes, the indirect object will occur in a prepositional phrase beginning with to or for. Read these two sentences:

Tomas paid the mechanic 200 dollars to fix the squeaky brakes.

Tomas paid 200 dollars to the mechanic to fix the squeaky brakes.

In both versions, the mechanic [the indirect object] gets the 200 dollars [the direct object].

When the direct object is a pronoun rather than a noun, putting the indirect object in a prepositional phrase becomes a necessary modification. The preposition smoothes out the sentence so that it sounds natural. Check out these examples:

Leslie didn't have any money for a sandwich, so Smitty purchased her it.

Blech! That version sounds awful! But now try the sentence with the indirect object after a preposition:

Leslie didn't have any money for a sandwich, so Smitty purchased it for her.

Locating the indirect object her in a prepositional phrase lets the sentence sound natural! Now read this example:

After Michael took generous spoonfuls of stuffing, he passed us it.

Ewww! This version sounds awful too! But with a quick fix, we can solve the problem:

After Michael took generous spoonfuls of stuffing, he passed it to us.

With the indirect object us in a prepositional phrase, we have an improvement!

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