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A direct object is a word or a word group that follows an action verb and is the direct receiver of the action expressed in the verb. Most often, the direct object is a noun or a pronoun.
Direct receiver of the action
What do we mean by the term direct receiver of the action? We mean that sometimes the action in a verb may be carried over to some word (or word group) mentioned in the sentence. That word (or word group) is the receiver of the action and therefore the direct object.
Here is an example:
- The big-game hunter shot the charging rhinoceros.
The verb is an action verb: shot. The subject is the person doing the action of shooting: the hunter. But in this case, there is also a target that received the action of shooting: the rhinoceros. The noun rhinoceros is therefore the direct object of the action verb shot.
Finding direct objects
If you are wondering whether there is a direct object in a sentence, first look for an action verb. If you find one, ask the question what? or whom? after the verb. The word or word group that answers the question will be the direct object.
- The big-game hunter shot the charging rhinoceros. [Shot what? The rhinoceros.]
- The neighbours’ poodle chased me up a tree. [Chased whom? Me.]
- Brent likes selling gas in Saskatchewan. [Likes what? Selling gas in Saskatchewan.]
- I don’t understand how your gerbil got into the laundry hamper. [Understand what? How your gerbil got into the laundry hamper.]
In the above examples, the direct objects are a noun (rhinoceros), a pronoun (me), a phrase (selling gas in Saskatchewan) and a whole dependent clause (how your gerbil got into the laundry hamper).
Sentences without direct objects
Not all sentences with action verbs contain direct objects. Some action verbs do not express an action that can be carried over onto an object.
Here are some examples:
- Alison smiled pleasantly.
- Jason fell on the ice.
Smiled what? Fell what? There’s nothing to answer these questions. That means that there is no direct object in these sentences.
Transitive and intransitive verbs
Verbs whose action is carried over onto a direct object are called transitive verbs. In the examples above, shoot, chase, like and understand are all transitive verbs.
Verbs whose action is not carried over onto a direct object are called intransitive verbs. The verbs smile and fall in the above examples are intransitive verbs.
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