So Jim is the indirect object in the sentence "Sally gave Jim a sandwich." But is Jim still the indirect object if the sentence is "Sally took the sandwich from Jim"? And if the sentence were to become "Sally took the sandwich from Jim for herself" would Sally now be both the subject and the indirect object?


Additional (silly) question: did I format the quotations correctly in my second and third sentences or should I have not omitted the periods at the end of the quotations?

  • You can say Sally took Jim a sandwich, in which case Jim is the indirect object of took, but it means Sally took a sandwich to Jim. There is no indirect object in Sally took a sandwich from Jim. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 12:39

4 Answers 4


Let me start off by saying I am not an English grammar professional, so I may not always speak about things using the most rigorous expert terminology. But I am trained in a number of languages (Latin, Ancient Greek, Spanish, French, Italian, German), and I have a very good grasp of grammar, even if I sometimes have my own idiosyncratic way of explaining things.

All of that having been said, here's my real answer:

In your examples (after the first one), Jim is the object of a preposition, as noted in another answer. Same for "herself" (again, as noted in another answer).

The new bit of information I want to add (what makes my answer an answer and not a comment), is this:

You have a direct object (DO) and an indirect object (IO) with verbs of giving, showing, and telling. The DO is the thing the subject gives, shows, or tells. The IO is the person (or perhaps thing) to whom (or perhaps to which) the subject gives, shows, or tells the DO.

Jim gives the book to Sally.

Sally shows the picture to Jim.

Jim and Sally give a bone to the dog.

If you follow that basic principle, it's usually pretty clear when you have a IO and when you have something else, like the object of a preposition.

I should just add that, in English, you can make this seem a bit more obscure by omitting the preposition "to" as follows:

Jim gives Sally the book.

Sally shows Jim the picture.

Jim and Sally give the dog a bone.

If you see a sentence like this and you are confused, ask yourself, "Can I change this to a construction using 'to' and have it make the same sense?"

For example, can I change "Jim gives Sally the book" to "Jim gives the book to Sally" and have it make the same sense?

If so, then you've still got an construction with a DO and an IO. Again, you will see this construction with verbs of giving, showing, and telling.

Does that make sense? Does any aspect of this answer require clarification?

  • Additional things to think about: "I gave him a headache" is more usual than "I gave a headache to him" (the two constructions aren't just an arbitrary equivalent transformation of one another); and your list of 'giving/showing/telling' is a little bit arbitrary. In French and Spanish, for example, the same construction as 'giving/showing/telling' could also be used for 'taking away'. So an argument on essentially semantic grounds may not make terribly much sense. Commented Nov 4, 2013 at 20:29

The answer depends on how you analyze it. In the analysis presented in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), an object typically has the form of a noun phrase. Jim in your first sentence is a noun phrase, and it can be an object. From Jim in your second sentence cannot be an object; it is instead a complement with the form of a preposition phrase.

Before I answer your other question, I have to make an important but subtle point: syntactic constituents such as objects are made of words, not people. Jim (the person) is not an object, because he's not a noun phrase. The word Jim can be a noun phrase, though, so unlike Jim himself, the word referring to him can be an object.

For this reason, Sally cannot be both the subject and object in your third sentence. Even if you choose to call herself an object, it still isn't the same word as Sally. Of course, both Sally and herself refer to the same thing: Sally the person.


Indirect object use with privative verbs

The answer to your general question is that yes, it is still an indirect object when it used in that peculiar syntactic position with privative verbs like deny and forbid, or sometimes cost and dock.

Privative verbs are one that deprive someone of something. Their syntax parallels that of their semantic opposites, the benefactive verbs which provide someone with something. In both case, the indirect object must immediately follow the verb, which in turn is eventually followed by whatever direct object that the indirect object is being deprived of.

For example, in the sentence

  1. The bouncer denied him entry because he wasn’t wearing a coat and tie.

the noun entry is the syntactic direct object of of the verb deny while the pronoun him is that verb’s syntactic indirect object. Both are core not oblique arguments of the verb.

Other examples include:

  1. Her father forbade them access to his daughter.
  2. They docked me a week's pay for that blunder.
  3. His misunderstanding would eventually cost him his life.
  4. They’ve shorted me ten dollars again.

The verb's direct effect is on the object but its indirect effect is on the indirect object. The indirect object is often — and in many verbs nearly always — a person or other animate agent of some sort, sometimes via personification.

If you look only at sentences without any prepositional phrases, just noun phrases in both the direct- and indirect-object slots of ditransitive verbs, it will avoid certain digressions about whether that still counts as an indirect object.

When you ask someone a question or elect someone pope, that someone is still the indirect object but you cannot rewrite those into prepositional equivalents using dative shift. Other verbs that can take indirect objects yet are not amenable to prepositional rewrites with to include allow, bet, charge, cost, dock, find, save, short, spare, tax, tip, and wish.

Whether you can or cannot use dative alternation depends entirely on the verb, though, and general rules are hard to come by here. Furthermore, in older writings or in certain living but regional dialects, you can find indirect objects being used with verbs in ways that other living speakers would never use in that way.

  • 'Jill threw Jim a glance' <- ?? -> 'Jill threw a glance at Jim' messes up my analysis. It's one of those where I'm tempted to stick at 'idiom'. Commented Jul 30, 2023 at 15:37

Jim is still the indirect object. Sometimes, the construction S-TV-IO-DO is not used when using such may sound unnatural. In your second and third example, the prepositional phrases containing the indirect object is positioned as such because it sounded natural.

  • 1
    Prepositional objects are not indirect objects! “Subject and object arguments are known as core arguments; core arguments can be suppressed, added, or exchanged in different ways, using voice operations like passivization, antipassivization, application, incorporation, etc. Prepositional arguments, which are also called oblique arguments, however, do not tend to undergo the same processes.”
    – tchrist
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 17:15

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