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In the sentence: "The boy kicked the ball," the ball is obviously the direct object.
A student asked me if the sentence were changed to "The boy kicked nothing," is nothing also a direct object?

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    Yes, nothing is a direct object. Both ball and nothing are nouns. – CowperKettle Jan 28 '15 at 10:52
  • Thank you. I wasn't sure if the boy had to actually kick soemthing. – David Jan 28 '15 at 11:02
  • Something would also be a direct object. – bib Jan 28 '15 at 13:12
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    I think it's beyond the mandate of this forum to decide whether "nothing" is actually "something" :) – Phil M Jones Jan 28 '15 at 14:51
  • @PhilMJones It should come as no surprise that it is – Jim Jan 28 '15 at 19:03
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  • The boy kicked nothing

A good test for objects is to see whether the phrase can become the subject in a passivised version of the sentence. For the Original Poster's example we get the following sentence:

  • Nothing was kicked by the boy.

Here we see nothing in subject position. We can do another little test just to check if this is the subject. If we make a question, does this word change places with the auxiliary verb was:

  • Was nothing kicked by the boy?

Yes, nothing and was changed positions here. Nothing is definitely the subject of the passive voice sentence. This shows that it was the object in the active voice sentence.

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    Great tests. It's also something to show the students so they can use them in the future. – David Jan 28 '15 at 14:51
  • They're by no means infallible. All had a good time. A good time was had by all. // All had their own teeth. *Their own teeth were had by all. There are articles here mentioning some direct-object look-alikes (He seemed a nice man / He walked a mile ...). – Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 '15 at 1:28
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A direct object that is a noun can be replaced by a pronoun.

  • I like my teacher. I like him.

It can even be replaced by indefinite pronouns such as something, nothing, everything etc.

  • I understand the text. I understand it. I understand everything/nothing.

Probably you wouldn't have doubts whether nothing can be a direct object if it were spelled as two words: I understand "no thing".

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