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Please guide me to find the object.

Example: Sally will help you with your housework.

You - direct object.

How do you eliminate "with your housework" as a direct object?

Help what/help whom? help what gives - "with your housework"

Help whom - "you"

Is there a rule that prepositional phrases cannot be objects?

I can easily find IO and DO in many other examples like

  1. She sent her friend an email. Indirect object- her friend, Direct object - an email.

  2. He gave them a bag full of money. Indirect object - them, direct object - a bag full of money.

Thanks

brp7

2 Answers 2

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[1] Sally will help you with your housework.

[2] She sent her friend an email.

[3] He gave them a bag full of money.

PPs can't be indirect objects but they can be direct objects, as in:

[4] We must prevent [under the desk] from getting too untidy.

In [1] "you" is direct object of "help", but the PP "with your housework" is a complement of "help", not indirect object. Here, "your housework" is object of the preposition "with", not directly of the verb.

[2] and [3] are straightforward examples where the verbs "sent" and "gave" have noun phrases as objects.

In [4] the PP "under the desk" is direct object of "prevent".

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    +1, but why can't they be indirect objects too? "I gave under the desk a good cleaning." Sep 6, 2023 at 17:52
  • Agree that PPs referring to places can be direct or indirect objects but please note this is extremely rare. Almost all direct objects are NPs. So are indirect objects, except under some definitions where indirect objects are said to alternate between NPs and PPs, e.g. "give the girl [NP] a book" / "give the book to the girl [PP]".
    – nschneid
    Jan 10 at 2:19
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The issue causing you confusion appears to revolve around the interpretation of the interrogative pronoun what in the prompt "Help what." You are correct that its referent doesn't necessarily have to be a noun - but it does have to be something that functions as a noun. Sometimes prepositional phrases can function as nouns: an example would be

By the creek is my favorite picnic spot.

In the sentence above, the prepositional phrase by the creek functions as a noun and fills the role of subject of the sentence.

Recall that the definition of a noun is a person, place, thing or idea. When your instructor or textbook says that a grammatical object fills the role of what or whom, that means that the pronoun whom stands for a person, while what stands for a place, thing or idea. So, if you're trying to find the direct object of the verb "help" by answering the question "Help whom or what," you will be looking for something that fits into one of these categories (like the phrase "By the creek" in the example sentence, which refers to a place).

So, a sentence where a prepositional phrase is the direct object could look like this:

Q: What is your favorite picnic spot?   A: I like by the creek best!

There, "by the creek" is the DO of "like."


So, why can't "with your housework" be a prepositional-phrase direct object?

This is because it answers a different kind of "what". Instead of what thing, the prepositional phrase "with your housework" can only answer the question "in what way."

In what way does Sally help you? She helps with your housework.

Thus, you can see that the role of "with your housework" (even when it comes directly after "help," without the word "you" occurring anywhere in the sentence) is not that of a noun, but that of an adverb. Something that functions as an adverb cannot be a Direct Object, because it's a modifier and not a substantive. (Substantive = anything that functions as a noun.)

So, since "with your housework" is an adverbial prepositional phrase in your quoted sentence, that only leaves "you" as the candidate for the direct object of "help."


Another way of looking at it is by analogy: it's easy to visualize what it means to help a person with something. If Sally helps you, you are receiving assistance from her (with something). But if Sally helped with your housework, is with your housework some entity which is receiving assistance with something? If so, could you, Sally, and with your housework all go on a picnic together?

The reason that interpretation doesn't work is that, since with your housework is adverbial and not substantive, even if the sentence were just

Sally helped with your housework

The phrase would still not be a direct object. Instead, the verb "help" would be described as functioning intransitively (meaning it doesn't have a direct object) and would be modified by the same adverbial prepositional phrase. (Although the [semantically] implied object of "help" would still be "you," since it isn't present in the sentence, from a grammatical perspective "help" wouldn't have an object at all.)

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  • Rereading my answer, I realize I should have clarified: the reason the prompt In what way? points to an adverb is because "in what way" is synonymous with the interrogative adverb how. Adverb = how, where, why, when Sep 6, 2023 at 17:49
  • Yes, but the PP with your housework is not an adverbial modifier but a complement of "help" since it is licensed by the verb.
    – BillJ
    Sep 6, 2023 at 17:52
  • @BillJ I'm not entirely sure how the term "complement" is used in more advanced grammatical terminology, but I'm pretty confident that material written for learners would refer to that kind of phrase as an "adverb phrase." When I was in elementary school, if I recall correctly the term complement only referred to constructions like happy in "Treats make the dog happy." Sep 6, 2023 at 17:55
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    @ Quack E. Duck Thanks for that detailed answer. I normally check by replacing the noun phrases/clauses with a pronoun. The example you give, "By the creek is my favorite picnic spot." could be put as "It/That is my favorite picnic spot." However "Sally will help you with your housework." has a problem fixing a pronoun. I also tried making some sentences, in which case the pronoun does not fit as well. 1) Sally will help you do it. 2) Sally will help you practice on the violin.
    – brp7
    Sep 7, 2023 at 11:40
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    Since Prepositional phrases function as adjectives and adverbs (and rarely as nouns) I think the job of the prepositional phrase "with the housework" is an adverb, modifying "help". Correct me if I am wrong. An example is "I know the policeman with the radio." where "with the radio " PP functions as an adjective for the policeman. "She speaks with great enthusiasm." There it functions as an adverb. Thanks
    – brp7
    Sep 7, 2023 at 12:01

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