I looked at him.

"I" is a subject of the sentence.

"looked" is a predicate.

Can I say "at him" is a indirect object? How to judge the noun phrases to be a direct object and an indirect object?

  • I tried to answer this wholistically. Check - ell.stackexchange.com/questions/23870/…
    – Maulik V
    May 21, 2014 at 4:52
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    @MaulikV. I wonder whether an indirect object should be existed with a direct object and without a direct object,there is no so-called indirect object.
    – user48070
    May 21, 2014 at 5:34
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    In "I looked at him", "looked" is a verb. The predicate is "looked at him", within which "at" is a preposition. I would simply call "him" the object. It serves no useful purpose to classify "him" as a direct object here (it's certainly not a typical one anyway) and in general we don't classify anything as an indirect object except in contexts where there is also a direct object. May 21, 2014 at 12:49
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    I believe that we can come up with at least two different analyses for the sentence. If we treated "look at" as a phrasal verb, then "him" would be the (direct) object of the verb "to look at". On the other hand, if we treated "look" as a verb, and "at" as a preposition, then this "look" wold be an intransitive verb, that is, it has no object. And in this case, if we wanted to say "him" is an object of anything, it would have to be the object of the preposition "at", which is perhaps not useful for learners at large. I'm fine with either analysis. Imo, sometimes, analysis is not very useful. May 21, 2014 at 15:00
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    @Damkerng: Agreed. I really can't see what use it is to classify an object as direct or indirect unless it's relevant to distinguishing it from another (indirect or direct) object. And I don't know that I'd call OP's look at a "phrasal verb" either, although I would accept that as a useful classification for certain usages, such as "I'll look at improving my answer" (=think carefully about), or "She's not much to look at, but she's great in the sack" (=find visually attractive). May 21, 2014 at 15:41

2 Answers 2


OP's example has a subject (I), and a 3-word predicate consisting of a verb (looked), a preposition (at) and an object (him).

In this particular context, "direct" and "indirect" are not useful subcategories of "object". From myenglishpages.com...

A direct object answers the question "What?"
An indirect object answers the question "To whom?" or "For whom?"

An indirect object is the recipient of the direct object, or an otherwise affected participant in the event. There must be a direct object for an indirect object to be placed in a sentence.
In other words an indirect object cannot exist without a direct object.


Regarding whether this example uses a phrasal verb or not (a point brought up in comments), when I checked looked at - definition and looked at - synonyms

while looked at can be considered a phrasal verb, this usage is not likely.

The referenced links have many examples so I won't repeat them. Therefore in:

I looked at him.

I would judge looked to be a intransitive verb.

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