Direct object in English

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DIRECT OBJECTS
DIRECT OBJECTS

This post will help you understand what a direct object is, what can be a direct object, and how to identify it. A detailed video on direct objects is attached at the end of the post; you can scroll down to it directly if you prefer watching videos.

What is a direct object?

A direct object is a word or a group of words (a phrase or a clause) that receives an action directly. Direct objects answer the questions ‘WHAT’ or ‘WHOM’. The answer of what is a thing and the answer of whom is a person.

Note that only transitive verbs can take a direct object. If the verb is intransitive, we can’t have a direct object in the sentence. We will be talking about transitive verbs at the end of the post.

Direct object explanation infographic
Direct object explanation infographic

Let’s study some examples of direct objects.

We eat green vegetables for breakfast.

Asking what or whom to the verb gets our direct object. Let’s ask the question: What or whom do we eat for breakfast? The answer is green vegetables. So, it’s answering the question. It is only natural to think that the object won’t be a person here as we eat things, not people.

My friend Jon loves Riya.

Whom does Jon love? It is Riya who he loves. The action (love) is received by Riya. She receives the action directly. The direct object can be a thing or a person; you can love something or somebody.

They canceled my ticked yesterday.

Ask yourself: Can you cancel something? The answer is yes. Whatever you cancel is the direct object of the verb cancel. What did they cancel in the example? The answer is my ticket. That’s the direct object. Notice that you can’t cancel a person; cancel is one of those verbs that can’t take a person as its direct object.

How to find a direct object?

Finding the direct object is not as difficult as some of us think it is. There are only two steps one needs to follow in order to find a direct object:

  1. Find the verb (action or stative)
  2. Ask ‘WHAT’ or ‘WHOM’ to the verb

NOTE: the verb of the direct object is usually an action verb. But it can be a stative verb either. Also, note that some stative verbs don’t take an object; they take a complement as they function as linking verbs. We will learn more about them going forward in the lesson.

Examples:

  • I was playing cricket when you called.

Verb = play (action)
Play ‘what’ = cricket (direct object)

  • I will buy your book.

Verb = buy (action)
Buy ‘what’ = your book (direct object)

  • I would share my story with you all very soon.

Verb = share (action)
Share ‘what’ = my story (direct object)

  • Do you eat meatballs?

Verb = eat (action)
Eat ‘what’ = meatballs (direct object)

  • I just opened the box secretly.

Verb = opened (action)
Opened ‘what’ = the box (direct object)

  • Jon was the only guy who helped Simran in her assignment.

Verb = helped (action)
Helped ‘whom’ = Simran(direct object)

  • I love everyone.

Verb = love (stative)
Love ‘whom’ = everyone (direct object)

  • We don’t understand his strategy.

Verb = understand (stative)
Understand ‘what’ = his strategy (direct object)

  • Everyone in my family likes you.

Verb = like (stative)
Like ‘whom’ = you (direct object)

  • You don’t own any shares in my company.

Verb = own (action)
Own ‘what’ = any shares (direct object)

Direct objects answering ‘WHAT

  1. I have never had fish in my life.
  2. Do you teach English here?
  3. Last night, we sold our house to a lady.
  4. We are writing a letter to the chairman of the society.
  5. Susan opened a cafe in this area last week.
  6. Have you published your first book yet?
  7. You should sign the deal. It will make you rich.
  8. My father does not drink tea after breakfast.
  9. I play the guitar.
  10. She does not drive her car; her brother does.

Direct objects answering ‘WHOM

  1. I love Riya with all my heart.
  2. Did the company fire Samuel yesterday?
  3. I can’t coach you.
  4. Why did you slap her?
  5. I haven’t invited my manager to my wedding.
  6. You can’t disrespect your father like this.
  7. Stop mocking the kid. He will start crying.
  8. I trust Monu more than anyone.
  9. The company is paying us a lot.
  10. I haven’t met Rohan this week.

A list of verbs that can’t take a person as a direct object; these can only take a thing as the direct object:

  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Book
  • Cancel
  • Fry
  • Cook
  • Splash
  • Brush
  • Speak
  • Consume
  • Do
  • Start
  • Finish
  • End
  • Say
  • Wear
  • Play
  • Sing
  • Owe
  • Crack
  • Place
  • Purchase
  • Buy

These verbs don’t take a person as the direct object; they only take a thing as the direct object.

Similarly, there are verbs that don’t take a thing as a direct object. Here is the list:

  • Treat
  • Beat
  • Help
  • Console
  • Bother
  • Forgive
  • Hurt
  • Murder
  • Arrest
  • Kidnap
  • Imitate
  • Investigate
  • Irritate
  • Mock
  • Marry
  • Divorce
  • Offend
  • Persuade
  • Scold
  • Surprise
  • Scare

What can be a direct object?

A direct object can be a word, phrase, or clause. Let’s study all the cases to leave no stone unturned.

A WORD AS THE DIRECT OBJECT

When it is a word, it’s generally a single word noun. But it can be a gerund (an ING form of a verb) either.

Examples:

  • I want money.
  • Do you Know Rahul?
  • We should not waste water as there is not much drinking water left.
  • Your friends are playing chess in the hall.
  • We love shopping. (gerund)
  • I don’t hate teaching; I do it for the love of it.
  • She prefers running to walking.

NOTE: Only stative verbs can take gerunds as the direct objects; action verbs don’t take gerunds as their objects.

A PHRASE AS THE DIRECT OBJECT

The following phrases can be the direct object of a verb:

  1. Noun phrase
  2. Gerund phrase
  3. Infinitive phrase

Examples:

  • One of my friends broke my phone yesterday. (noun phrase)
  • I have called a great friend of mine to help you wth this problem. (noun phrase)
  • Did you invite people from your gym to our function? (noun phrase)
  • Do you love playing games? (gerund phrase)
  • I don’t mind working with Jon. He is a god guy. (gerund phrase)
  • I would like to open my cafe someday. (infinitive phrase)
  • We want to play games. (infinitive phrase)
  • You need to leave right now. (infinitive)

A CLAUSE AS THE DIRECT OBJECT

A clause can also be the direct object of a verb. Note that only a noun clause can act as the direct object, no other clause can do it.

Examples:

  • Did you try what I sent you yesyerday?

Try ‘what’ = what I sent you yesterday

  • You don’t know who I am talking about.

know ‘whom’= who I am talking about

  • I like what I see here.

Like ‘what’ = what I see here

  • No one understood why you left the job.

Understood ‘what’ = why you left the job

  • You can say whatever you want to say.

Say ‘what’ = whatever you want to say

  • Let’s eat what the guy in the blue jacket is eating.

Eat ‘what’ = what the guy in the blue jacket is eating

Types of objects in English

Don’t confuse a direct object with a subject complement

A direct object only comes after an action verb or some stative verbs. On the other hand, a linking verb takes a subject complement. A direct object receives the verb, and a subject complement either renames the subject or modifies it.

NOTE: a direct object or any object is always a noun or a pronoun. On the other hand, a subject complement can be a noun or an adjective. A direct object as a noun or noun equivalent receives the verb, and a subject complement as a noun renames the subject. It is evident that an adjective can’t be an object, but it can be a subject complement, modifying the subject.

Examples:

  • Rohan is my teacher.

Does the sentence have an action verb? No, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t have an action verb or a stative verb, it is not possible to have the object of the verb. The sentence has a linking verb ‘is’, which links the subject (Rohan) to its complement (my teacher). The complement is a new name given to the subject. It is one person with two names: Rohan = my teacher.

  • Jon hired Rita after the discussion.

Here, Rita is the object of the verb ‘hired‘. Ask ‘hired whom’. The answer is Rita. Notice that the subject and the object are two different people. Rita is not a new name given to the subject; it is the person who the subject (Jon) acted upon. Jon ≠Rita

  • You seem happy.

Seem is a linking verb. ‘Happy’ is an adjective here that is modifying the subject. You = seem.

  • I got a lot of money from the program.

Here, the verb ‘got’ is a dynamic verb (action), and its object is ‘a lot of money’. It means ‘receive’. I ≠ a lot of money

  • Hearing his story, I got sad.

Here, the verb ‘get’ is a linking verb. The adjective ‘sad’ is modifying the subject, telling in what state the subject was. I = sad

Can the subject and the direct object be the same?

Yes, the answer is yes. When the subject performs an action upon themselves, we use a reflexive pronoun as the direct object.

  • I blamed myself for the state I was in.
  • She killed herself last night.
  • You are just troubling yourself.

Direct objects and transitive verbs

Direct objects and transitive verbs go hand in hand. In order to have a direct object, the verb has to be transitive. A transitive takes an object. But if the verb is intransitive, it can’t have its object. Intransitive verbs don’t take an object.

  • Let’s eat pasta.

Eat is a transitive verb. You can eat something. Here, pasta is what the subject eats; it is the direct object.

  • I slept in the kitchen last night.

Can we sleep something or someone? No, we can’t. We can sleep on something with someone, but we can’t sleep something or someone as it doesn’t take an object. It is an intransitive verb.

  • Monica is laughing at us right now.

Ask the same question again: Can we laugh something or someone? The answer is NO. We can’t laugh someone or something. We just laugh; this activity does not take an object.

The difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb is that transitive verbs answer the question ‘what’ or ‘whom’ and intransitive verbs don’t.

DIRECT OBJECT vs INDIRECT OBJECT

A direct object is a thing or a person that receives the action directly. On the other hand, an indirect object is something (usually a person) that receives the direct object. The action is done for the indirect object. Asking ‘whom’ or ‘for whom’ to the verb gives us the indirect object.

NOTE: a verb can’t have an indirect object without having a direct object.

Examples:

  • My parents gave me an expensive gift on my last birthday.

Gave ‘what’ = an expensive gift (direct object)
Gave it to whom (who received it) = me (indirect object)

  • Could you pass Jon this book?

Pass ‘what’= this book (direct object)
Pass it to whom = Jon (indirect object)

Jon is the receiver of the direct object. The book goes to him.

  • I have brought you some cookies.

Brought what = some cookies (Direct object)
Brought them for whom (receiver) = you (indirect object)

PRACTICE SET!

Find out the direct objects in the following sentences:

  1. No-one wants to play with you.
  2. You are doing it wrong.
  3. I can’t describe what I feel for you.
  4. She is wasting her money on this.
  5. You have been a great father.
  6. You should walk on grass.
  7. We can’t be demotivated at this pont.
  8. I don’t hate the guy. I just don’t like him.
  9. I regret helping that guy. He didn’t deserve it.
  10. I feel like drinking something hot.

Answers:

  1. to play with you
  2. it
  3. what I feel for you.
  4. her money
  5. no object
  6. no object
  7. no object
  8. the guy (object of the verb ‘hate’) and him (object of the verb ‘like’)
  9. helping that guy (object of the verb ‘regret’) and it (object of the verb ‘deserve’)
  10. drinking something hot.

Now, you have mastered what a direct object is, what it does, and how to identify it. Do share the post with others to help. Comment to ask your doubts and queries.

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