Grammatical Functions: Objects

Objects of Sentences

 
Predicates (the topic of the previous article in this series), aside from the mandatory verb, can have two other components — complements and adjuncts. This article discusses objects, which are a type of complement.
 

What is a complement?

 
A complement is a word or phrase that gives a sentence full meaning.

Certain verb phrases require a complement. For example, consider the phrase:

“I like.”

The verb like warrants a complement. Without more information, this technically grammatical sentence does not quite make sense. The reader wonders, “What do you like?”

The revised sentences below contain a complement (underlined). They make perfect sense:

“I like autumn.”

“I like to go for walks.”

 

Direct objects and indirect objects

 
There are two kinds of objects. A direct object is the recipient a verb phrase; an indirect object is the person or thing which the action denoted by a verb is done to or done for. The following phrase has both kinds of objects:

“Jane brought Jill some snacks.”

Some snacks is the direct object because it was snacks that were brought. Jill was not brought, but was rather the person for whom the snacks were brought. Thus, Jill is an indirect object in this sentence.
 

Characteristics of objects

 
Objects have some characteristics which distinguish them from other kinds of complements:
 

1) Objects have close bonds with verbs.

In many sentences which contain an object, the object is a requirement for the verb to make complete sense, as discussed above.

Also, in general, objects cannot be separated from the verbs to which they are linked. Consider the sentence:

“Jim ate pizza for dinner.”

Pizza is the direct object of the verb ate. This sentence cannot be rearranged in such a way that ate and pizza are separated by other words. The following sentence is incorrect, for instance:

“Jim ate for dinner pizza.”

Only words that would be part of a noun phrase of which pizza is the head (e.g., a, the, some, pepperoni) can be placed between the verb and the direct object noun.
 

2) Objects are usually noun phrases.

There are some cases in which direct objects are clauses instead of noun phrases, for example, in the phrase:

“I know that I am going to do well on the exam .”

But, in the majority of cases, direct objects are noun phrases. Indirect objects are always noun phrases.
 

3) Objects can become subjects when an active phrase is reworded as a passive phrase.

Again, let’s use the phrase, “Jim ate pizza for dinner.” We can manipulate this phrase to turn the direct object, pizza, into the sentence’s subject.

“Pizza was eaten for dinner by Jim.”

For some phrases which contain both a direct object or an indirect object, either object can become the subject of a passive phrase. “Jane brought Jill some snacks,” can become:

“Jill was brought some snacks by Jane.”

or

“Some snacks were brought to Jill by Jane.”


Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.

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