Source: p 126, If I Was You..., Lauren Sussman, 2014

The third type of complement used with a transitive verb is an indirect object. It comes before a direct object and answers the question to whom? or for whom? after the subject and verb.

I ask not about the meaning of an indirect object, about which I've read, but about the rationale behind the nomenclature. Wikipedia's explanation is too feeble (as it concedes itself); how's he (as represented by him) only indirectly affected? He received the present, so the sending affects him!

Indirect object  |  Entity indirectly affected by the action   |  She sent him a present.

  • 2
    I do not see what exactly slips your grasp. You seem to understand the issue. He is affected, yes, but not directly by the subject but instead by the the subject's action, i.e. sending a book. A direct object is influenced directly through the subject. Is this what you were missing? Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 1:13
  • 1
    Is the rationale behind direct object okay for you? If so, what might you suggest instead of indirect object?
    – user6951
    Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 3:21
  • How do you call the cases of a noun in your mother tongue?
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 16:18

4 Answers 4


Law Area 51 Proposal - Co, I think your confusion stems from you not using the sentence as it is strictly constructed to figure out what are the direct and indirect objects. (On another note, this is why diagramming sentences shouldn't be a lost art.)

Specifically the direct object is the primary target of the verb and the first necessary thing to happen. The indirect object[s] is/are the secondary target[s] of the verb and anything that is referred or happens after the first thing has occurred.

The original sentence is:

"She sent him a present."

In this example, the verb is "sent". The sentence says nothing about "him" receiving the present. He may have received the present, but that is not part of the sentence's syntax. If "she" does not send 'a present" (direct/primary action) nothing else (indirect/secondary actions) is referred by the verb ("him") and nothing else happens.

Also, think of it as those parts of the sentence that are unnecessary. The sentence may be incomplete (as a concise thought), but it is grammatical and makes sense. Therefore, you could remove the indirect object and recompose the original sentence as:

"She sent a present."

I have attached a diagram. I hope my answer is clear and helps. enter image description here

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    +1 Thanks for the sentence diagram and supernal picture!
    – user8712
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 3:50
  • 1
    Love the graphic! Love it!
    – EllieK
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 18:13

We're talking about the objects of a verb, specifically the objects of a transitive verb. An over-simplified way to describe a transitive verb (in the active voice) is to say that it carries an action from a subject to a direct object.

She sent him a present.

That sentence includes the idea of a sent present. The present receives the action that the verb carries. Now, what about him? We're not talking about a sent person. This guy does not receive the action. Instead, he receives the direct object -- the present itself.

The subject causes the action. The verb carries the action. The direct object receives the action. The indirect object receives something else -- something that isn't the direct action. The indirect object receives either the direct object or the benefit of the action. The indirect object is involved, not with the verb's action, but with the results of that action.

Yes, he got the present. That's the more distant, less direct relationship with the verb. The present, on the other hand, got sent. What could be more direct than that?


If you say, "I give a book to him", there's a subject, indirect object and direct object. The subject is, of course, me.

As for the direct / indirect objects, there's a book being given and a man receiving it. Although the man is very much involved in the exchange, he is only the recipient. There's also a book in there being thrown about the place, who is far more involved. So, from that logic, the book becomes the direct object and the man the indirect object.


Mary gave me a book.

Subject is Mary - the subject is who/what is doing the action.

What did Mary give? A book. The book is the "direct object" - what's receiving the action or what's being "targeted" by the action.

That leaves "me".

"Me" is not directly receiving any action or item. It's coming to me indirectly by way of Mary.

That's why it's called the indirect object.

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