I passed the ball to him.

Here, is "to him" modifying the object "ball" or the action verb "passed"? How can we know for sure?

I have been to several websites before I come here. I did practice to distinguish between adverbial and adjectival prepositional phrases, but I am still not very clear. (If I ask "Who am I passing the ball to?", it feels like "to him" tells us more information about who I am passing the ball to, which would make "to him" an adjective phrase. However, I can also see "to him" as giving more information about the ball, that the ball is going "to him", making it an adjective).


2 Answers 2


"To him" is a preposition phrase functioning as a complement.


1 I passed the ball to him.

[2] I passed him the ball

In both examples, "the ball" is direct object and "him" is the recipient of the ball. In [2] "him" is indirect object, related directly to the verb "passed", and hence is a core complement.

But in 1 "him" is related to the verb only indirectly, via the preposition "to", and hence is a non-core complement.

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  • I understand that "him" is the indirect object. However, is "to Him" a prepositional phrase? If so, is it an adjective or an adverb phrase and how can we tell?
    – Kwan Hui
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 11:00
  • "To him" is a preposition phrase because it has "to" as its head word. Its function is that of complement of "passed".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 12:22
  • Very generous making the diagram. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 13:42

I passed the ball to him.

Does the phrase modify “ball” or “passed”? Let’s try keeping it hooked to the first:

I bought the ball to him.

I painted the ball to him.

I loved the ball to him.

Hmmmm, those don’t make much sense. Try keeping the verb:

I passed the check to him.

I passed the news to him.

I passed the question to him.

Those make more sense. “Passing to him” is a verb phrase. It is something you can do with a lot of different direct objects. “The ball to him” is nonsense.

  • So, "to" is conjugated to "passed", therefore "to him" has to be an adverbial phrase modifying "passed"? Cool! It is my first time hearing it explained this way.
    – Kwan Hui
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 11:07
  • @KwanHui No: the PP "to him" is not an adverbial phase. Its function is that of complement (not modifier) of "passed", so it cannot possibly be a modifier.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 12:26
  • Thank you so much for your reply. Your diagram says that "to him" is a pp. I guess my question is Can "to him" be a PP complement that is also modifying the verb "passed" (which would make it an adverbial phrase)? Thank you!
    – Kwan Hui
    Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 10:42
  • @KwanHui No, "to him" is a complement, and complements can never be modifiers.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 13:33
  • @BillJ I have read that "A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies—that is, gives information about—another word in the same sentence." and that it a modifier can be an adjective, adverb, phrase, or clause. link In "I painted the wall red", red is the object complement but it also tells us that the color of the wall is red. Sorry, I still don't feel satisifed. I've just started to learn grammar more seriously. Can you explain in details why or refer me something to read about this topic? Thank you!!!
    – Kwan Hui
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 9:29

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