Reading English Grammar (HarperCollins College Outline, published by HarperResource, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) I found a chapter (Sentence Basics) that explains that in English there are different sentence patterns; in particular

  • Subject, verb, direct object, object complement
  • Subject, verb, indirect object, direct object

The chapter reports the following example for the patterns:

Alice called Charles Professor Miller.
Alice gave Charles the rabbit.

What is the difference between the two kind of sentences?
What is the difference between the object complement in the first case, and the indirect object in the second case?

PS: The question, which could appear silly, comes from the fact in my first language there is only the object complement.

  • You might want to emphasize that "verb" in your examples is more particularly "transitive verb"; sentences of the "subject-intransitive verb" pattern are also common.
    – user730
    Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 23:58
  • 1
    @J. Mangaldan: They are transitive as they take a direct object; that is by definition of transitive verb.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 1:02
  • There are in fact seven sentence patterns in English, but perhaps the authors were trying to keep it simple. Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 10:44
  • @BarrieEngland In fact, I only reported two of the sentence patterns the book is showing.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Oct 13, 2012 at 20:56

2 Answers 2


In the first, "Professor Miller" is modifying "Charles" and is not being acted upon - it's an adjective, and a complement to the direct object, Charles, who is being called Professor Miller.

In the second, "the rabbit" is the direct object - it's being acted upon, that is to say, it's being given. Given to whom? Why to Charles, the indirect object of the sentence.


In many other languages, what we call the indirect object exists as the dative case. The direct object complement is a fairly unusual construct in English and could be easily misinterpreted. (Did they mean "Charles and Professor Miller"?)

  • Object complement is not a fairly unusal construct. For example, in Slavic languages (e.g. in Russian), Professor Miller from the first sentence in the op would be in the instrumental, or in some (e.g. Czech, Slovak, Slovenian), in the nominative case, and would be the object complement. It's simple, the verb call just has such valency (when it has this meaning, as opposed to the meaning in Alice called Charles a taxi). Charles would be the direct object in the accusative.
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 0:02

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