How To Find the Indirect Object of a Sentence

by | May 1, 2022 | GrammarSpot | 0 comments

My son loves doing “science experiments.” He’s 4, so a lot of his “research” involves mixing things together and trying to make other things explode. The kid loves a good chain reaction, and if you do, too, you’ve come to the right place. The indirect object is the culmination of all the thrills, chills and action-packed spills in a sentence.


indirect object

Indirect Object Definition

In a sentence, the indirect object receives the direct object. The direct object receives the action of the sentence. Not all sentences have indirect objects.


What Is an Indirect Object?

An indirect object tells you to whom or for whom the sentence’s action takes place. In the sentence below, for example, the indirect object is Todd.

  • Peggy gave Todd a piece of pizza.

Here’s why Todd’s our main man: The subject of the sentence is “Peggy.” She’s the one doing the action, aka handing out delicious pizza.

“A piece of pizza” is the direct object in the sentence. It’s what’s being acted upon by Peggy; she’s giving it.

Now here comes Todd. “Todd” is the indirect object in the sentence because he’s the recipient of the direct object (“a piece of pizza”).

You might think of the indirect object like the end of the line for the sentence’s action. In this example, the action starts with Peggy (subject), moves to the pizza (direct object) and ends with Todd (indirect object) — more specifically, with his oregano-dusted stomach.


Indirect Object Pronouns

Just like subject pronouns, indirect object pronouns stand in for nouns. Let’s go back to Peggy, Todd and that pizza. Our original sentence was:

  • Peggy gave Todd a piece of pizza.

Here, Todd is still the indirect object of the sentence because he’s the lucky guy getting the direct object of the sentence, which is a piece of pizza. If we were to swap in an indirect object pronoun, the new sentence would look like this:

  • Peggy gave him a piece of pizza.

In this sentence, “him” is the indirect object, and it’s a pronoun that’s standing in for “Todd.” It’s worth noting that indirect object pronouns are always in the objective case:

  • Me
  • You
  • It, him, her
  • Us
  • Them

Indirect object pronouns operate much like subject pronouns do and achieve the same results. They’re a simple way to add fluidity to your writing and minimize repetition. To see what I mean, check out this paragraph that does not use indirect object pronouns. The indirect objects are bold.

  • Peggy gave Todd a piece of pizza. In return, Todd offered Peggy a bite of his cabbage salad. Todd also bought Peggy a wheatgerm shot and gave Peggy his extra bean sprouts.

The sentence doesn’t sound great, and it’s not just because of Todd’s questionable food choices. It sounds robotic or amateurish, and the repetition of Todd and Peggy’s names sticks out like a sore, sprout-wrapped thumb.

Now watch what happens when we swap in some indirect object pronouns. Those are also in bold:

  • Peggy gave Todd a piece of pizza. In return, Todd offered her a bite of his cabbage salad. Todd also bought her a wheatgerm shot and gave her his extra bean sprouts.

Much better.


Where Is the Indirect Object in a Sentence?

The best way to uncover the indirect object in a sentence is to break that sentence down and identify it part by part. You can follow a couple of tricks to expedite the process.


Tip No. 1

The indirect object is located between the verb and the direct object. If that seems a little weird given the order of events and the way the action moves through the parts of the sentence, it is. Check out this example:

  • Xavier (subject) bought (verb) his mom (indirect object) a car (direct object).

Most indirect objects can be moved to the end of the sentence, but then they become part of a prepositional phrase. When this happens, they’re no longer considered indirect objects. Womp womp.

  • Xavier (subject) bought (verb) a car (direct object) for his mom (prepositional phrase).


Tip No. 2

Indirect objects only work with transitive verbs. This is because direct objects only work with transitive verbs, and — all together now! — the indirect object receives the direct object. When it comes to a sentence’s meaning, the indirect object is the final piece in the puzzle. Without it, the sentence isn’t as rich.


Indirect Object Examples

Practice time! Feast your eyes on these examples of indirect objects, hard at work and holding down the show. In each sentence, the indirect object is in bold.

  • Jimbo gave his mom Cheez-Its for Mother’s Day.
  • Kurt brought Moira a foot-long sandwich.
  • Oprah asked the prince penetrating questions.
  • My grandma taught me how to do a killer Sean Connery impression.
  • The lawyer engaged the witness in friendly banter.


indirect object pronouns

The Indirect Object Completes the Idea

An indirect object is to a sentence what The Dude’s rug was to his room in “The Big Lebowski”: It ties the whole thing together. Got any tips for finding indirect objects? Kindly share in the comments below!

Beth Sederstrom
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