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Objects and Complements

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Objects

A verb may be followed by an object that completes the meaning of the verb. Two kinds of objects follow verbs: direct objects and indirect objects. To determine if a verb has a direct object, isolate the verb and make it into a question by placing whom? or what? after it. The answer—if there is one—is the direct object, as in the following examples:

Direct object
The advertising executive drove a flashy red Porsche.
Direct object
Her staff gave her a bouquet of flowers.

The second sentence above also contains an indirect object (her). An indirect object (which, like a direct object, is always a noun or pronoun) is, in a sense, the recipient of the direct object. To determine if a verb has an indirect object, isolate the verb and ask to whom?, to what?, for whom? or for what? after it. The answer is the indirect object.

Not all verbs are followed by objects, as in the following sentences:

  • The guest speaker rose from her chair to protest.
  • After work, Randy usually jogs around the canal.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Verbs that take objects are known as transitive verbs. Verbs not followed by objects are called intransitive verbs.

Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on the context, as in the following examples:

Transitive
I hope the Senators win the next game.
The verb win has a direct object (the next game) and is therefore a transitive verb.
Intransitive
Did we win?
The verb win has no direct object and is therefore an intransitive verb.

Subject Complements

In addition to transitive verbs and intransitive verbs, there are linking verbs. The word or phrase which follows a linking verb is called a subject complement (not an object).

The most common linking verb is be. Other linking verbs are become, seem, appear, feel, grow, look, smell, taste and sound, among others. Note that some of these can be linking verbs, transitive verbs or intransitive verbs, depending on how you use them, as in the following examples:

Linking verb with subject complement
He was a radiologist before he became a full-time yoga instructor.
Linking verb with subject complement
Your homemade chili smells delicious.
Transitive verb with direct object
I can’t smell anything with this terrible cold.
Intransitive verb with no object
The interior of the new Buick smells strongly of fish.

Note that a subject complement can be either a noun (radiologist, instructor) or an adjective (delicious).

Object Complements

An object complement is similar to a subject complement, except that it modifies an object rather than a subject. In this example of a subject complement,

  • The driver seems tired.

the adjective tired modifies the noun driver, which is the subject of the sentence.

Sometimes, however, the noun will be an object, as in the following example:

  • I consider the driver tired.

In this case, the noun driver is the direct object of the verb consider, but the adjective tired is still acting as its complement.

In general, verbs that have to do with perception, judgment or change can cause their direct objects to take an object complement, as in the following sentences:

  • Paint it black.
  • The judge ruled her out of order.
  • I saw the Prime Minister campaigning.

In each of the above examples, you could reconstruct the last part of the sentence into a sentence of its own using a subject complement: it is black, she is out of order, the Prime Minister is campaigning.

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