Indirect Object

The indirect object of a verb receives the direct object. In effect, the action moves from the subject, through the verb, to the direct object and then the indirect object.

Sue passed Ann the ball. Ann is the indirect object.

Sue passed Ann the ball.

subject verb indirect object direct object
Sue passed Ann the ball.

indirect object

Note that the indirect object comes between the verb and the direct object.

Look at some more example sentences:

subject verb indirect object direct object
The teacher gave the class some homework.
I read her the letter.
John bought Mary a ring.
John brought Mary some flowers.

An indirect object can be one word or several words. It is usually:

  • noun (They normally give refugees shelter.)
  • proper noun (The dealer sold John a fake.)
  • noun phrase (They bought their eldest daughter a house.)
  • pronoun (Please make her a new dress.)
In general, indirect objects are often people or animals and direct objects are often things.

Indirect Object or prepositional phrase?

In general an indirect object can be rephrased and repositioned as a prepositional phrase starting with "to" or "for". The examples above would then become:

subject verb direct object prepositional phrase
The teacher gave some homework to the class.
I read the letter to her.
John bought a ring for Mary.
John brought some flowers for Mary.

Note that the prepositional phrase is NOT the indirect object—it is just a prepositional phrase.

An Indirect Object needs a direct object

To have an indirect object in a sentence there must first be a direct object. That also means that only transitive verbs can have an indirect object (because only transitive verbs can have a direct object).

How to find the Indirect Object

To check whether an indirect object exists in a sentence, you first need to find the verb and direct object.

Example: Sue passed Ann the ball.

  • Step 1: find the verb = pass
  • Step 2: find the direct object - ask "what?" about the verb ("What/whom did Sue pass?") = the ball
  • Step 3: find the indirect object - ask "what?" received the direct object ("What/who received the ball?") = Ann

Answer: The indirect object is Ann.

When Indirect Object is a pronoun, the pronoun must be in objective case

Remember that pronouns can have subjective and objective case, like this:

personal pronouns
subjective case objective case
he, she, it
him, her, it

When the indirect object is a pronoun, the pronoun MUST be in objective case. Look at these examples:

  • Sue passed her the ball.
    Sue passed she the ball.
  • Did she give him the money?
    Did she give he the money?
  • The businessman made them an offer.
    The businessman made they an offer.

More example sentences with Indirect Object

The indirect object can appear in positive sentences, negative sentences, question sentences and imperative sentences. Here are some examples showing the indirect object in different types of sentence:

  • James Bond told Mother the news.
  • Hillary never sent Bill any emails.
  • Why did you give her that?
  • Can you make me some fruit cakes?
  • Don't give him that book!
  • John threw the dog a ball and the dog brought it to me.
  • Professor Parinya assigned his students three new projects.
  • Do you always read your children a story at bedtime?
  • Matt bought his new wife a huge box of Belgian chocolates for her birthday.
  • The waiter made a bit of a mess pouring one of the guests a glass of wine.

Contributor: Josef Essberger