Introduction to Direct Objects

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10560

Can you bake cookies without eggs? Writing is like baking: you need all the right ingredients (or words) to write well. To understand a sentence, you must ask the right questions. Let's get cooking!


Grammar, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Who did what to whom?

direct object comic

Take a look at the comic above. Describe the action in as few words as possible. It looks like there is some interaction between a mother and son.

Maybe you said something like, "The boy gave a flower to his mom." If you did, then you gave a great example because that sentence has direct object!

At this point in your writing, you know that you need to have a subject and a verb to have a complete sentence. The subject tells the who, and the verb tells the what.

A sentence doesn’t have to be fancy to be complete; it just needs these two elements.

So, let’s call our subject, "Laila." Next, we need to give Laila something to do — let’s say, bake.

Now, we’ll put our subject and action verb together to make a very simple sentence: Laila baked.

Good, but many of us speak and write in more than two-word sentences. There are several things we could do to add more flavor to this sentence.

In fact, writing is very much like baking. The ingredients (or words) you add will determine whether you end up with a cake, a pie, a batch of cookies or brownies, or something entirely unique.

You could focus on the baker (the subject, which is always a noun), and add an adjective to describe Laila: Artistic Laila baked.

You could also add an appositive to describe Laila: Laila, my neighbor, baked.

You could even use a participle (a verb with an –ing or –ed ending that acts like an adjective and modifies a noun): Starving Laila baked. (And made a mess.) 

Let’s move on and focus on what we can do to modify the verb. We can add an adverb to describe the way in which she baked: Laila baked happily.

Another thing we could do is use a prepositional phrase to tell when, where and how she bakes: Laila baked after school (answers the question, "When?"). Laila baked at her Aunt Sue’s house (answers the question, "Where?"). Laila baked with a family recipe (tells how she baked).

A subordinating conjunction (for, and, neither, but, or, yet, so) or a coordinating conjunction (and, because, therefore, etc.) can be added to the sentence to answer the question, "Why?": Laila baked because she was hungry.

We already have the who (Laila), and we have answered every possible question above except one: "What did Laila bake?" (And how do we structure and categorize that in a sentence?)

 woman baking

Welcome to the wonderful world of direct objects!

A direct object receives the action performed by the subject. The verb used with a direct object is always an action verb. Another way of saying it is that the subject does the verb to the direct object.

Let's go back to the comic:

Boy > gave > flowers (to his mother is a prepositional phrase) (boy = subject; gave = verb; flowers = direct object)

What did Laila bake? Let’s say she baked a cake. Our sentence, therefore, would read, "Laila baked a cake."

To find the direct object, say the subject and verb followed by the questions, "Whom?" or "What?" Laila baked what? Cake answers the question, so cake is the direct object.

If nothing answers the question whom or what, you know that there is no direct object.

Example: The car sped past. The car sped whom or what? Nothing answers the question, so the sentence has no direct object.

Here are some rules for the direct object:

  • The direct object must be a noun or pronoun.
  • A direct object will never be in a prepositional phrase. (Check out Additional Resources lesson in the right-hand sidebar if you need to review.)
  • The direct object will not equal the subject as the predicate nominative, nor does it have a linking verb as a predicate nominative sentences does.
  • The direct object will always, always, always have a transitive verb* that will transfer its action from the subject to the direct object in the sentence.

*An intransitive verb is also an action verb, but there is no object to receive the action. Some examples of sentences with intransitive verbs are:

  • The book fell.
  • The sun set.
  • The bird sang.

Follow these steps to find the direct object:

"The player hit the baseball far into left field." Remember, the direct object is the noun or pronoun that the verb has acted upon by will of the subject (It is the cake that has been baked by Laila.). How do you find the parts of the sentence? Here's how:

  1. First, find the subject: player.
  2. Second, find the verb: hit.
  3. Third, ask, “What did the 'subject verb'?” What did the player hit?
  4. Fourth, find your direct object. Answer the question: The player hit the baseball.

Baseball is the direct object. Do you see how the direct object receives the action of the subject? Try another: "We walked to the park."

  1. First, find the subject: We.
  2. Second, find the verb: walked.
  3. Third, ask, “What did the 'subject verb'?” What did we walk?
  4. Fourth, ask, "Does this make sense?" I can ask where we walked and answer that with a prepositional phrase. "Walked" is an intransitive verb; therefore, the action is not being transferred to another noun. There is no direct object.

Try these next two examples, step-by-step, with your parent or teacher:

  • The club members held a party in the park.
  • The audience cheered their favorite actors during the play.

Now, walk on to the Got It? section for some more practice.

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