What Is the Function of an Indirect Object in English Grammar?

What Is the Function of an Indirect Object in English Grammar?

In English grammar, an indirect object is a noun or pronoun that indicates to whom or for whom the action of a verb in a sentence is performed.

With verbs that can be followed by two objects, the indirect object typically comes immediately after the verb and before the direct object.

When pronouns function as indirect objects, they customarily take the form of the objective case. The objective forms of English pronouns are me, us, you, him, her, it, them, whom and whomever. (Note that you and it have the same forms in the subjective case.)

Also Known As: dative case

Examples and Observations

  • "Instead of answering my question, he showed me a photograph of his father, the squeamish Otho." (Charles Portis, The Dog of the South, 1979)
  • At Chartwell, Winston Churchill painted, raised pigs, and built the children a tree house in a lime tree.
  • "Edna‚Ķ sat and told the children a story." (Kate Chopin, The Awakening, 1899)
  • "I had about two inches of water left, and passed him the bottle." (Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods. Broadway Books, 1998)
  • "Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime." (Chinese proverb)
  • "I bought myself a parrot. The parrot talked. But it did not say, 'I'm hungry,' so it died." (Mitch Hedberg)
  • "I never give you my pillow,
    I only send you invitations,
    And in the middle of the celebrations, I break down."
    (John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "Carry That Weight")
  • "Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have
    Immortal longings in me."
    (William Shakespeare, from Antony and Cleopatra)

Two Patterns

"The two patterns for sentences with indirect objects are the prepositional pattern and the dative movement pattern. Depending primarily on the verb, both patterns or only one pattern may be possible.
"In the prepositional pattern, the indirect object occurs after the direct object and is preceded by a preposition. In the dative movement pattern, the indirect object occurs before the direct object." (Ron Cowan, The Teacher's Grammar of English: A Course Book and Reference Guide. Cambridge University Press, 2008)


"The verbs which can take an indirect object are a subset of transitive verbs, and known as 'ditransitives.' For English, such ditransitive verbs include give, send, lend, lease, rent, hire, sell, write, tell, buy and make." (James R. Hurford, Grammar: A Student's Guide. Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Prepositional Datives and Ditransitive Datives

"The dative is a pair of constructions, one similar to the content-locative, the other containing two naked objects:
The first is called the prepositional dative (because it contains a preposition, namely, to), the second the ditransitive or double-object dative (because the verb is followed by two objects, not just one). In traditional grammars the two phrases are called the indirect and direct objects; linguists today usually call them simply the 'first object' and the 'second object.' The term dative, by the way, has nothing to do with dates; it comes from the Latin word for 'give.'" (Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Viking, 2007)

  • Give a muffin to a moose.
  • Give a moose a muffin.

Recipients and Beneficiaries

"The indirect object is characteristically associated with the semantic role of recipient… But it may have the role of beneficiary (the one for whom something is done), as in Do me a favour or Call me a taxi, and it may be interpreted in other ways, as seen from examples like This blunder cost us the match, or I envy you your good fortune." (Rodney D. Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction To English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2005)