The Direct Object, the Indirect Object, and the Object of the Preposition

By July 24, 2018Grammar

The eye and the ear: a short analysis of the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of the preposition

This post will not cover in detail issues relating to the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of preposition. I like to write short posts, and so perhaps, at another time, I will return to this area of grammar.

Sometimes a sentence seems to work semantically but not grammatically. It is the way the sentence is constructed that is the problem. Many books can now be bought in an audio format. Listening to a sentence that on the face of it is not constructed grammatically but which sounds fine to the ear shouldn’t be an issue for the narrator of the story or for the person listening to it. This will certainly be the case if the sentence makes perfect sense semantically but not grammatically. I have given an example below of what I mean.

On the other hand, when a sentence is written in a book that is grammatically incorrect, there is the potential for the reader to focus on the error rather than on the intent of the sentence. Rather like a poorly placed piece of punctuation – or even a lack of it – the reader may find their enjoyment of the story spoiled if the construction of the sentence lacks grammatical polish.

Skip this part, if you want to get to the thrust of the post

Were any of us taught anything about the direct object, the indirect object, and the object of the preposition, I wonder? It is quite possible you weren’t. I know I wasn’t!

In the examples below (just two), I am going into a little detail to define what is meant by these terms.

Example 1

I baked Margaret a cake.

Here the direct object cake is the result of the action performed by the subject I. It answers the question ‘what?’ or, in this case, ‘who?’ after an action verb.

An indirect object precedes the direct object and tells ‘to whom’ or ‘for whom’ the action of the verb is done and ‘who’ is receiving the direct object. And an indirect object is always a noun or pronoun that is not part of a prepositional phrase. The indirect object refers to Margaret as she is the one receiving the direct object. She is therefore the beneficiary of the direct object.

Example 2

I baked a cake for Margaret.

Notice the sentence is almost identical, but Margaret appears at the end of the sentence, and the preposition for precedes Margaret. In this case Margaret becomes the object of the preposition.

How can you tell if a word is an indirect object or the object of a preposition? If the noun or pronoun comes just after a preposition, then it is the object of a preposition. If it does not come just after a preposition, then it is an indirect object. The indirect object is usually followed by a direct object. The object of a preposition is not and is often found at the end of a sentence.

Hopefully, it is now clear how these three elements of grammar work in a sentence.

Back to the focus of the post

So to the point of the post. The sentence below focuses on the incorrect position of the indirect object.

Then she pulled from under her bed a photo album.

To me, this seems perfectly understandable. Semantically, I don’t have a problem with it. If I heard this said in an audiobook, I would be fine with it. But grammatically, it is expressed incorrectly. And it becomes a problem when the sentence appears in a book. It sticks out like a sore thumb. This is because bed, the object of the preposition in the phrase from under her bed, precedes the direct object photo album.

To express this sentence correctly, the prepositional phrase should come after the direct object. Like this:

Then she pulled a photo album from under her bed.

Examining the sentence in detail we have the following:

But now, the sentence below has been rewritten grammatically.

Then she pulled a photo album from under her bed.

The principal constituents of this sentence to focus on are the words photo album, from, and bed. The way this part of grammar works is as follows:

The direct object photo album receives the action performed by the subject she. It shows the result of the action. It answers the question ‘What?’ or, in this case, ‘Who?’ after an action verb. The phrase ‘from under her bed’ is a prepositional one; so it would be correct to refer to the word bed as the object of the preposition.

Pulling it all together

There may be people who disagree, but for me — and leaving aside direct speech, which has its own form of language depending on the genre — what is audibly expressed in the story does not matter to anything like the same extent as to what is read in the story.

Perhaps it is because when we listen to what the narrator is saying, we do not have time to think about the grammatical aspect so much. Or could it be that the narrator’s skill masks the incorrect grammar used?

However, when we read the story for ourselves, the author cannot hide their incorrect use of the English language!

So, I for one, do not mind at all seeing the following sentence said in an audiobook:

She pulled from under her bed a photo album.

In fact, as it is being said in the story, I can quite easily see in my mind what is happening.

However, I can also see why grammarians and those who do not consider themselves as such but who do know the principles of grammar may wish to see the sentence expressed correctly:

She pulled a photo album from under her bed.

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