Introduction to Indirect Objects

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10561

...and Jones passes Smith the ball, Smith shoots...He scores! Can you find the indirect object? You will after online games and practice with a simple formula that will help you understand grammar.


Grammar, Writing

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Do you ever watch sports?

If you have, then you have heard an announcer talk about the game (whatever the sport) while it is happening. Take a look at the baseball players in the images below:

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Think of a few sentences that an announcer might say about a play that is taking place in one of the photos.

Be the Announcer 

Remember, announcers are always talking; always telling who did what to whom. Maybe you play a sport and have heard an announcer say your name. Or maybe you've been to a professional game. It's okay if you've only watched sports on TV. If that's the case, then you have the best knowledge of what the announcers say! You may even play a sports-centered video game with a really annoying announcer. 

Here is an example: 

Lucky Louie threw Bobby Jones the ball, but it popped right out of his glove. Sam scored the first homerun of the game! 

Write your commentary down on a sheet of paper, and we will come back to it later. 

Indirect Objects 

You learned all about direct objects. Direct objects work with transitive verbs to show what the subject is doing in relation to the verb.  

Remember, direct objects only appear in sentences with transitive verbs, which are literally action verbs that transfer their action to the direct object. Think about the sports examples above. The pitcher transfers the action of pitching to the ball. 

Intransitive verbs are also action verbs, but the action is not transferred. 
For example: The horse galloped. (galloped = intransitive verb) 

Subject complements do not have direct or indirect objects either.

By definition, a subject complement is a clause or phrase that follows a linking verb (is, are or was) and complements, or completes, the subject of a sentence by describing or renaming it. It is important to note that only action verbs can have objects. Therefore, if the verb is a linking one, the word that answers the question what or who is a subject complement.  

Example 1: The chauffeur accidentally locked his keys in his limousine. 

  • Chauffeur is the subject, and locked is the action verb 
  • What did the chauffeur lock?  
  • Answer: his keys = direct object 

Example 2: The chauffeur was happy to find a spare key. 

  • Chauffeur is the subject and was is the verb 
  • Is was an action verb? Can you was across the playground? Can you was the Ball to Jimmy? Can you was me a cake? No, that’s because was is a link verb, and linking verbs help to describe feelings or states of being.  
  • So, you can ask, “The chauffeur was what?”  
  • However, the answer happy isn’t something I can touch or physically give to you. That makes it a subject compliment describing how the subject feels. 

Back to Objects: 

In the direct objects Related Lesson (right-hand sidebar), we used the example of baking. We stated, “Laila baked,” which is a complete sentence with both a subject and a verb. However, if we want to know what she baked; we need to transfer that baking directly to an object, a direct object to be precise.  

We can say, “Laila baked her sister a cake.” 

This is where things with objects get tricky.  
If you recall, finding the direct object takes a few simple steps: 

  1. Find the subject:  In this case, Laila is the one who is performing an action.
  2. Find the verb: Baked is our verb.
  3. Ask “what did the subject verb?” Or, in this case, what did Laila bake? Ok, that was easy enough. Laila baked a cake. Cake is the direct object. 

Now, you might be wondering about the rest of the words in that sentence. They obviously serve a purpose; otherwise, we could get rid of them, and the meaning of the sentence would not change. However, the remaining words do serve a very important role: they tell for whom Laila baked the cake. If we didn't know this, we might just walk right in and start eating her sister's special cake! That might make her sister angry. 

The other words in the sentence tell for whom Laila baked the cake. They tell the reader who or what received the direct object. In other words, the indirect object of a sentence is the recipient of the direct object 

Examples of Indirect Objects 

  • Simon gave his uncle a dirty look.
         (his uncle - indirect object) 
  • Let him have it.
         (him - indirect object) 

[Note: When the indirect object is a pronoun, the pronoun must be in the objective case.]

[Double Note: In the event that you forgot, objective pronouns are pronouns that serve as…well, you guessed it…objects. These pronouns can be direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of the preposition. The objective case only affects personal pronouns (e.g., I, he, she, we, they). For example, he becomes him, and they becomes them.]

How to Find the Indirect Object 

Before you can find the indirect object, you have to find the direct object. If you completed the "Introduction to Direct Objects" lesson, you should know this like bread knows butter. 

Just in case you skipped right to indirect objects, here is a QUICK review: 

  1. Find the subject 
  2. Find the verb. 
  3. Ask the question, “what did subject verb?” 
  4. If you can answer that question, you have a direct object; so move to the next step.  
  5. If you cannot answer that question, you most likely have either a linking verb or an intransitive verb  
Once you've found the direct object, the next step is to ask who or what received the direct object. 

For example: She gave the beggar a gold coin. 

  1. Subject = she
  2. Verb = gave
  3. What did she give?
  4. Coin is our direct object. 

The next step: Ask who (or what) received the direct object? The beggar. Therefore, the indirect object is the beggar.

Remember, once you have found the direct object, you have to ask who (or what) received the direct object to find the indirect object. 

The indirect object always comes between the verb and the direct object.  
Example: She gave me a gift.  
The indirect object always modifies the verb. It may have modifiers and be compound. It is used with verbs such as give, tell, send, get, buy, show, build, do, make, save, and read. 

Indirect Objects vs. Objects of the Prepositions To and For 

This is a debated topic. However, if you follow all of the rules for finding the indirect object especially the rule that it is found between the verb and the direct objectthen indirect objects are NEVER followed by prepositions. Only objects of the prepositions are followed by prepositions. 

For example: 

  • Paula passed the money to her father. 

This sentence has a direct object, money. However, the preposition to takes away the need for an indirect object. 

Now look at the following sentence: 

  • Paula passed her father the money. 

The preposition to is implied, but not written. We have a direct object, money, and an indirect object telling to whom Paula passed the money, her father. The word father, our indirect object, is placed between the verb and the direct object exactly where it needs to be. 

Therefore, the best practice is to keep your objects separated.

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