What Is an Object? (with Examples)
Object (English Grammar)An object is a noun (or pronoun) that is governed by a verb or a preposition. There are three kinds of object:
- Direct Object (e.g., I know him.)
- Indirect Object (e.g., Give her the prize.)
- Object of a Preposition (e.g., Sit with them.)
Examples of Direct ObjectsThe direct object of a verb is the thing being acted upon. You can find the direct object by finding the verb and asking "what?" or "whom?". In each example below, the verb is in bold and the direct object is shaded.
- Please pass the butter. (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = pass)
- I don't have a bank account because I don't know my mother's maiden name. (Comedienne Paula Poundstone) (Step 1: Find the verbs. Verbs = don't have and don't know)
(Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Pass what? A: the butter)
(Step 2: Ask "what?" for each verb. Q: Don't have what? Don't know what? A: a bank account and my mother's maiden name.)
- Don't eat me. I have a wife and kids! Eat them! (Homer Simpson) (Step 1: Find the verbs. Verbs = don't eat, have, and eat)
(Step 2: Ask "what?" for each verb. Q: Don't eat whom? Have what? Eat whom? A: me, a wife and kids, and them)
- My cat is recovering from a massive stroke. (Comedian Darren Walsh) (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = is recovering from)
(Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Is recovering from what? A: a massive stroke)
- The cat wants to eat our goldfish. (Step 1. Find the verb. Verb = wants)
(Step 2. Ask "what?". Q: Wants what? A. to eat our goldfish)
(That seems easy enough, but note that the direct object has its own verb and direct object. (Q: Eat what? A: our goldfish.))
Read more about direct objects.
Examples of Indirect ObjectsThe indirect object is the recipient or beneficiary of the action (more often than not, it's a person). You can find the indirect object by finding the verb and direct object (see above) and then asking "for or to whom?". In each example below, the direct object is bold and the indirect object is shaded.
- Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. (Actress Marilyn Monroe) (Q: Give the right shoes to whom? A: a girl)
- Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy. (Author F. Scott Fitzgerald) (Q: Show a hero to whom? A: me)
- Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. (General George Patton) (Q: Never tell "how to do things" to whom? A: people)
(Q: Write a tragedy for whom? A: you)
(Q: Tell "what to do" to whom? A: them)
- When giving jewellery as a present, I'm giving protection to someone I care about. (Actress Sofia Boutella)
- Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. (Educational reformer Horace Mann)
Examples of Objects of PrepositionsThe noun (or pronoun) governed by a preposition (i.e., a word like in, on, at, by, near) is known as the object of a preposition. In each example below, the preposition is bold and the object of the preposition is shaded.
- Lee lives near Brighton.
- He lives among us.
- Lee lives near a pub. (The object of the preposition is pub, and a is a modifier.)
- He lives among his old friends..
- When I was younger, I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born. (Comedian Yianni Agisilaou)
- You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans. (President Ronald Reagan) (In this example, his and of eating jellybeans are modifiers for way. Of note though, of is a preposition with its own object of a preposition, eating.)
- I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together . Riveting! (Comedian Stewart Francis)
More about ObjectsHere are three more noteworthy points related to objects:
Only transitive verbs can have a direct or indirect object.
When a verb has a direct object, it is called a transitive verb. Some verbs do not take objects. They are known as intransitive verbs.
- Malcolm fell very badly. (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = fell)
(Step 2: Ask "what?". Q: Fell what? A: Nothing. You can't fall something.)
(Therefore, there's no direct object. The verb to fall is intransitive.)
Linking verbs don't have a direct object.
Don't confuse subject complements with direct objects. If you ask "what?" with a linking verb, you'll find a subject complement not the direct object.
- Peter is happy. (Step 1: Find the verb. Verb = is)
(Step 2. Ask "What?". Q: Is what? A: happy.)
(On this occasion, happy is not the direct object. This is because is (i.e., the verb to be) is a linking verb.)
- You are a funny guy. I will kill you last. (Here, a funny guy is not a direct object. It's a subject complement following the linking verb are (i.e., to be). The verb will kill (i.e., to kill) is a transitive verb (so not a linking verb) and you is its direct object.)
Read more about linking verbs.
Objects are in the objective case.
Objects are always in the objective case. In English, this only affects pronouns (but not all pronouns).
- She saw him. (The pronoun him (the direct object of saw) is the objective-case version of he.)
- Give them the money. (The pronoun them (the indirect object of give) is the objective-case version of they.)
- Dance with her. (The pronoun her (the object of the preposition with) is the objective-case version of she.)
|Personal Pronoun||Objective Case Version||Comment|
|who||whom||This one causes errors.|
Read about whoever/whomever.
|whoever||whomever||This one causes errors.|
Read about whoever/whomever.
A verbal is a word derived from a verb. Verbals function as adjectives or nouns. Verbals can be infinitives (e.g., to read, to think), gerunds (e.g., reading, thinking), and participles (e.g., reading, thinking - they look the same as gerunds).
Here is an example of an infinitive (in bold) with a direct object:
- As a kid, I was made to walk the plank. We couldn’t afford a dog. (Comedian Gary Delaney) (To walk is an infinitive. Q: To walk what? A: the plank)
Here is an example of a gerund (in bold) with a direct object:
- Driving a time machine is annoying because your kids are always asking "Are we then yet?". (Comedian Paul Taylor) (Driving is a gerund. Q: Driving what? A: a time machine)
Here is an example of a participle (in bold) with a direct object:
- Watching the London Marathon, I notice one runner dressed as a chicken and another as an egg. I thought: "This could be interesting." (Comedian Paddy Lennox) (Watching is a participle. Q: Watching what? A: the London Marathon)
Why Should I Care about Objects?Yup, that's a lot of terminology for stuff you do naturally, but there are three good reasons to think more carefully about objects.
(Reason 1) Don't confuse who and whom.Who is never an object, but whom always is. Use who for a subject but whom for an object. For example:
- The paper slates whom? (Whom as a direct object)
- Show whom the money? (Whom as an indirect object)
- I met two rugby players, one of whom was a little too good at dancing. (Whom as the object of a preposition.)
This means who and whoever almost never follow a preposition. It can happen though.
- Islam was interpreted to give the ruler absolute power, which was a convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler. (Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei) (Here, even though it follows a preposition (for), whoever is correct. It's the subject of the noun clause whoever was the ruler.)
(Reason 2) Use the correct verb after using an object of a preposition.The object of a preposition cannot be the subject of a verb.
- Lee's box of magazines are under the stairs.
- Lee's box of magazines is under the stairs.
However, the situation is different with some expressions (e.g., half of, a proportion of). With these, the object of the preposition does influence the verb.
- Half of the cakes are missing. (Here, cakes means that half is treated as plural.)
- Half of the cake is missing. (Here, of cake means that half is treated as singular.)
(Reason 3) Use if and whether correctly.Writers are sometimes unsure whether to use if or whether after a preposition. Use whether.
- It's a moral question about whether we have the right to exterminate species. (Naturalist Sir David Attenborough) (Put another way: Use whether, not if, to head up a noun clause that's the object of a preposition.)