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As in 'I gave the book to him'.

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    They can, but not in your example. "Him" is not an indirect object, but complement of the preposition "to". It has the same meaning as "I gave him the book", but the syntax is different. – BillJ Oct 4 '18 at 8:45
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    You might also be unaware that our sibling site English Language Learners has loads of information on questions of grammar such as this. Try a general search for "personal pronoun indirect object", otherwise separate searches under each term. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 4 '18 at 11:25
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An indirect object is the recipient of a direct object.

For instance:

I built a sandcastle.

I = subject
built = verb
a sandcastle = direct object

And:

I built her a sandcastle.

I = subject
built = verb
her = indirect object
a sandcastle = direct object


In your sentence, him is part of the prepositional phrase to him but it is still an indirect object:

I gave the book to him.

I = subject
gave = verb
the book = direct object
to him = prepositional phrase (preposition + indirect object)

This is equivalent to:

I gave him the book.

I = subject
gave = verb
him = indirect object
the book = direct object

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  • Same meaning but different syntax. The preposition phrase "to him" is complement of "gave", but "him" is complement of "to", not an indirect object. The trad account appears to be based on the fact that the semantic role of "him" as recipient is the same as in "I gave him the book". But "him" also has that role in the passive "He was given the book", yet no one would want to say that it was indirect object here: it is clearly the subject. Syntactic functions must be assigned on the basis of syntactic properties, not sematic ones. – BillJ Oct 6 '18 at 7:20

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