What Is an Indirect Object? | Definition & Examples

Sentence and word structure updated on  March 13, 2024 4 min read
An indirect object is a noun or pronoun that receives the direct object. The indirect object often answers the question “for whom?” or “to whom?”

An indirect object is always accompanied by a direct object, which receives the action of a verb and answers the question “what?” or “whom?”

Indirect object examples
Bring her a cup of coffee.
Did you loan Janae your car?
I fed the dog his supper already.

What is an indirect object?

An indirect object is the person or (sometimes) thing that receives the direct object, while a direct object is the thing or person that the verb acts on.

Because indirect objects receive the direct object, they are always used with direct objects in sentences. They answer the question “to whom” or “for whom” about the direct object.

For example, look at the sentence “Mateo sent me a letter.”

  • The direct object is “letter.” It answers the question “What did Mateo send?”
  • The indirect object is “me.” It answers the question “To whom did Mateo send the letter?”

Indirect object examples
I want to give Will a present. [To whom do I want to give the present? Will.]

Lara owes the bank a lot of money. [To whom does Lara owe a lot of money? The bank.]

While indirect objects are often one noun, they can be made up of more than one noun (a compound indirect object) or a noun phrase.

Compound and noun phrase indirect object examples
I gave Victor and Lena a ride to the store.

Thomas wants to show the CEO of the largest car company in Japan his design.

Direct and indirect objects

Sometimes, people have difficulty differentiating indirect objects from direct objects. This is understandable because any sentence that has an indirect object also has a direct object.

  • Direct objects are nouns that receive the action of a verb and answer the question “what?” or “whom?”
  • Indirect objects are nouns that receive the direct object and answer the question “to whom?” or “for whom?”

Direct objects are only used with certain verbs (called transitive verbs), so indirect objects are also only used with these verbs. Other verbs (e.g., “walk,” “jump,” “sleep”) are intransitive verbs and do not take any objects.

Direct objects are required for transitive verbs, but indirect objects are always optional. If there is only one object in a sentence, it is a direct object. If an indirect object is used, it is typically placed between the verb and the direct object.

Transitive verbs and objects examples
Santa gives presents.
Santa gives children presents.
Santa gives children.

I sold my car.
I sold Peter my car.
I sold Peter.


Verbs that often have both an indirect object and a direct object are called ditransitive verbs. These include verbs like “ask,” “bring,” “sell,” “loan,” “send,” and “give,”

There are some transitive verbs that cannot take an indirect object (e.g., “want,” “borrow”).

Transitive verbs that do not take indirect object examples
I want a soda.
I want you a soda.

She borrowed a lawnmower.
She borrowed me a lawnmower.

Indirect object pronouns

In English, personal pronouns have different forms depending on whether they function as a subject or an object in a sentence. So, for example, we say, “I gave Lars a cookie” but “Lars gave me a cookie.” Direct and indirect objects (and objects of prepositions) always use the object pronoun form.

Subject and object pronouns

Subject pronoun

Object pronoun

I

me

you

you

he/she/they/it

him/her/them/it

we

us

you

you

they

them

One common mistake that people make is using “I” instead of “me” when there is a compound indirect object (e.g., “She gave you and me a good grade”). For all objects, object pronouns should be used.

Object pronouns as indirect objects examples
Talia sent me a card.
Talia sent my mom and me a card.
Talia sent my mom and I a card.

Note
Like the personal pronouns discussed above, the relative and interrogative pronoun “who” also has an object form: “whom.” So, to determine the indirect object of the sentence “Logan gave her flowers” we ask, “To whom did Logan give flowers?”

The distinction between “who” and “whom” is not very common in daily conversation. However, it is important in academic writing.

Reflexive pronouns

We often use reflexive pronouns (“myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “itself,” “themselves”) to indicate that the subject and the indirect object are the same person.

Reflexive pronouns as indirect objects examples
After studying for an hour, she gave herself a break.
I told myself I would not eat meat anymore.
The children bought themselves some candy.

Indirect objects vs prepositional phrases

Very frequently, indirect objects are rephrased as prepositional phrases (typically using the prepositions “to” or “for”). So, instead of saying “My mom brought me lunch,” we might say, “My mom brought lunch to me.”

In cases like this, “me” is not technically an indirect object. It is the object of the preposition.

Prepositional phrase examples
Gavin sent a letter to the committee.
Adele bought a coffee for her friend.

Indirect objects and prepositional phrases are often interchangeable. However, there is one situation when a prepositional phrase is preferred: when both the direct object and the indirect object are pronouns.

Prepositional phrase with pronouns examples
Jay gave me this pen.
Jay gave me it.
Jay gave it to me.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.

Idioms

Parts of speech

Fallacies

Diamond in the rough

Irregular verb

Slippery slope fallacy

Idioms

Gerund

Sunk cost fallacy

Piece of cake

Infinitive phrase

Red herring fallacy

Better late than never

Infinitive

Appeal to authority fallacy

Salt of the earth

Adverb

Circular reasoning fallacy


What is the difference between a direct object and an indirect object?

Direct objects are nouns or pronouns that receive the action of a verb and answer the question “what?” or “whom?” (e.g., “I bought some flowers”).

Indirect objects are nouns or pronouns that receive the direct object and answer the question “to whom?” or “for whom?” (e.g., “I bought Morgan some flowers”).

Both direct objects and indirect objects are used with transitive verbs. Direct objects are required after transitive verbs, and indirect objects are optional.

What is an example of an indirect object in a sentence?

In sentences, indirect objects receive the direct object and answer the question “for whom?” or “to whom.” For example, in the sentence “I gave the teacher my homework,” “the teacher” is the indirect object. It answers the question “To whom did I give my homework?”

Which verbs take indirect objects?

Indirect objects are always optional in English. When they do appear, they always appear alongside a direct object, so they are only used with transitive verbs. Transitive verbs that frequently use an indirect object are called ditransitive verbs (e.g., “sell,” “bring,” “take,” “send, “show”).

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.

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