What Is — and Where Is — the Direct Object in a Sentence?

by | Oct 15, 2021 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

What’s the best Christmas or Chanukah gift you’ve ever received? For me, it was Captain Power, Christmas 1987. Sure, the PowerJet XT-7 was just a glorified television remote, but I adored it and its interactive, VHS-tape space adventures set “in 2147 after the Metal Wars.”

Why am I talking about some weirdo ‘80s toy? Because understanding what a direct object is comes down to identifying who’s on the receiving end of the action in a sentence, and that glorious Christmas that I received Captain Power and his fellow Soldiers of the Future was totally tubular. Read on to learn more about what direct objects are and how to find them faster than you can say, “Look out! It’s Lord Dread!”


direct object

Direct Object Definition

In a sentence, the direct object is who or what is on the receiving end of the action. For example, “basketball” is the direct object in the sentence “Deshaun dunked the basketball.”


What Is a Direct Object?

To understand what a direct object is and how to find it, we need to hop in our flashy grammar time machine and fly back to whatever grade you were in when you learned about the parts of a sentence.

A complete sentence, also known as an independent clause, has two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject is who or what the subject is about. The predicate is the verb, or action, in the sentence, and everything after it. Here’s an example:

Whitney pushed her poker chips across the table.

In the above sentence, the subject is “Whitney.” She’s the person that the sentence is about. She’s the one making big moves at the poker table, hopefully, because she has a good hand and not because she has a serious gambling problem and needs to win back her wedding ring.

The predicate is “pushed her poker chips across the table.” The predicate contains the verb “pushed” and then some other details that enrich the sentence. One of those “other details” is the sentence’s direct object. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed “chips,” pat yourself on the back or buy yourself a Ferrari; whatever your ritual is. (And if you didn’t guess “chips,” who cares? That’s why you’re reading this blog!) The chips are the sentence’s direct object because they’re what’s being pushed by Whitney, the subject of the sentence. The chips are the object being directly acted upon by her.


Direct Objects Only Follow Transitive Verbs

Can we gossip for a sec? Direct objects are kind of stuck-up. They work exclusively with transitive verbs, and vice versa. In fact, the “trans” in “transitive verb” stands for the transfer of action from a subject to a direct object. In the sentence “Victor ate cake,” for example, the transitive verb “ate” transfers the sentence’s action from Victor to the cake. Yum.

Here’s more tea: Direct objects do not follow linking verbs. Remember: Linking verbs are verbs that link the subject of the sentence to an adjective or noun. For example, if you wrote, “Rob is exhausted,” the linking verb “is” links “Rob” to “exhausted.” A linking verb essentially says that two parts of a sentence are equal. Direct objects, meanwhile, aren’t part of the equation.


How To Find the Direct Object in a Sentence

Not all sentences have direct objects. Some have indirect objects. Some have multiple objects. Some have none. The sentence “Seth burped,” for example, doesn’t include any objects. It has a subject (Seth) and a verb (burped), and that’s all she wrote.

So how do you know where to look for the direct object in a sentence — if there even is a direct object in the sentence? You find the action and start asking questions.

First, find the sentence’s verb. Then put on your detective hat and ask “what” or “whom” of that verb. Your answer is the direct object. Check out these examples to see what I mean:

  • She smelled smoke. (What did she smell? Smoke, the direct object.)
  • Mrs. McBlincher taught AP History. (What did Mrs. McBlincher teach? AP History.)
  • Frank adopted a raccoon. (What did Frank adopt? A raccoon, which is the direct object and also pretty gross.)

Just like Lady Gaga, a direct object can also take many forms. It may be:

  • A noun: Laura loves dinosaurs.
  • A noun phrase: Megan reads comic books about zombie influencers.
  • Other phrases: Albert hates it.
  • A clause: Jeff regrets getting that face tattoo.
  • A pronoun: Javier loves when the DJ plays ‘90s hip hop.

Let’s dig a little deeper into that last one.


Direct Object Pronouns

Direct object pronouns do the exact same thing that subject pronouns do: They replace nouns. When your sister says, “Where’s my samurai sword? I can’t find it,” the word “it” is a direct object pronoun that replaces “samurai sword.”

Let’s rewind for a sec and break it down: In that second sentence, “I” is the subject. “Can’t find” is the verb phrase. That leaves lonely little “it,” which answers the question “What can’t she find?” Tiffany can’t find “it,” aka her samurai sword, which is going to make samurai practice at the YMCA tonight tricky.


Direct Object Examples

It’s time to cement your fancy new direct object knowledge with some examples. In each of the sentences below, the direct objects are in bold. Remember: They’re the noun phrases that answer the question “What or whom?”

  • Bryan crashed his Toyota.
  • Can you pick up the Elvis impersonator and drive him to the bat mitzvah?
  • Kristen and Henry ordered mimosas.
  • Jolene broke his heart.
  • Shannon chased them around the block.
  • Don’t tell her!
  • Sharif babysat his little brother and four of his cousins.
  • The surgeon fixed my toe.
  • Amy loves watching “The Real Housewives of Potomac.”
  • Gustavo draws comic books.
  • I already changed Spike’s diaper and packed his diaper bag.
  • Somebody stop him!
  • Luke hates doing laundry.
  • Aunt Renee prefers ice hockey over ballet.
  • Dragons love tacos.


direct object pronouns

Fear the Direct Object No More

As Captain Power might say, “The Power of the Future is in your hands! And also: Drink Pepsi!” (Sorry. The ‘80s were rotten with commercialism.) The next time you find yourself staring down a sentence, trying to spot the direct object, you can (A) run away from your desk in horror, or (B) find the action in the sentence and ask who or what is on its receiving end. Got any other tips for sussing out direct objects? Power on and sound off in the comments below!

Beth Sederstrom
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