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In the sentence "I taught my cat some tricks", the direct object is "tricks" and the indirect object is "cat".

In the sentence "I taught my cat", what are the direct and indirect objects, if any?

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    Is there some reason why this matters? – tchrist Sep 25 '14 at 3:21
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    @tchrist I think you would find that a grammarian would probably think it mattered and would give a precise technical answer on when an object was direct and when indirect and whether teach is ditransitive, or whether the cat is an indirect object. John Lawler, are you out there? – WS2 Sep 25 '14 at 7:52
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    The question seems irrelevant. You may be under the impression that you taught your cat some tricks, but in reality, you are the indirect object. It is your cat that taught you some tricks. This has to do with feline superiority rather than English language. – oerkelens Sep 25 '14 at 8:13
  • teach, v.tr.: 1. To impart knowledge or skill to: teaches children. Or cats. – anongoodnurse Sep 25 '14 at 8:37
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(1) "I taught my cat some tricks."
(2) "I taught my cat."
I must disagree with @user111737. The mere fact that the speaker no longer specifies what he is teaching the cat does not convert the cat from the indirect object in sentence (1) to the direct object in sentence (2). In either sentence, the cat is the recipient of what is being taught. Of course, I never realized that cats could be taught anything. ;-)

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Consider the sentence

S V I D

Where "S" is the subject, "V" is the verb, "I" is the indirect object, and "D" is the direct object.

An example of that would be

I [S] gave [V] him [I] the book [D]

The sentence can be changed from active to passive in the following ways

D was V to I by S

Where "D" becomes the subject of the passive sentence, and "I" and "S" become objects of preposition. My example would become

The book [D] was given [V] to him [I] by me [S]

Another way to make the sentence passive is like this:

I was V D by S

Where "I" becomes the subject of the passive sentence, "D" stays the direct object, and "S" becomes an object of preposition. The example would be:

He was given the book by me

When a sentence such as the first one you gave is in active form, it can be hard to see where the indirect object is. But if you find the two passive versions of the sentence, then the indirect object becomes obvious.

Your original sentence was

I taught my cat some tricks [1]

It can be changed to a passive sentence two ways:

My cat was taught some tricks my me [2]

Some tricks were taught to my cat by me [3]

In sentence [2], one might be tempted to point out that "cat" is the subject of that passive sentence and thus the direct object of sentence [1]. However, sentence [2] is simply of the form "I was V D by S" which I showed you before. On the other hand, sentence [3] is of the form "D was V to I by S" (as is evident by the words "to" and "by"). Both sentences suggest that "cat" is the indirect object.

Therefore, in your first sentence, "I" is the subject, "taught" is the verb, "cat" is the indirect object, and "tricks" is the direct object.

Now consider the second sentence

I taught my cat

What is the action? "Taught" Who or what performed the action? "I" What or whom did the subject teach? "Cat"

There is no indirect object, but only a direct object. There is only one way to make this sentence passive:

My cat was taught by me

Now it becomes obvious that "cat" is the direct object of the first sentence. In a passive sentence with no direct object, the sentence is the direct object of an active version of the sentence.

Furthermore, you cannot precede "cat" by "to" ("I taught to my cat") indicating that it is indeed not an indirect object. On the other hand, you could precede "cat" with "to" in the first sentence you gave ("I taught some tricks to my cat") but not "tricks" ("I taught my cat to some tricks")

One more thing, a sentence cannot have an indirect object without a sirect object. See the sources below*

In conclusion, "cat" is the indirect object and "tricks" is the direct object of the first sentence you gave, and "cat" is a direct object in the second sentence you gave

*Sources that you can't have an indirect object without a direct object:

  • Does that reasoning still hold for telling people things? Seems not to. – tchrist Jan 28 '19 at 4:19
  • @tchrist Yes. "I tell people things" turns into "Things are told to people by me" and "People are told things by me" It still works. Your example of "telling people things" wouldn't work alone because it's not a full sentence (it doesn't have a subject) – ElliotThomas Jan 28 '19 at 16:17
  • That wasn't what I meant. I find "People were told by me" to be at best marginally grammatical. It has to be "People were told things by me", because people is always the indirect object of the telling, never the direct object, even when the sentence is “I told people” and nothing else. There’s an implicit direct object that isn’t said; the people are still the beneficiaries of that telling, not the things that were actually told. Telling tales is a direct object but Telling people is still an indirect one in my book. – tchrist Jan 28 '19 at 16:52
  • @tchrist Any passive sentence that ends in "by me" doesn't sound very good. However, consider "People were told lies by the mayor" and "Lies were told to people by the mayor." Even in your sentence (People were told things by me), the word "People" is a subject rather than an indirect object. In the original sentence of "I told people things", "people" is an indirect object. The sentence "I told people" isn't really a complete sentence because you're expecting "people" to be an indirect object. The sentence is only complete if "people" is a direct object, which doesn't make sense. – ElliotThomas Jan 28 '19 at 19:49
  • "a sentence cannot have an indirect object without a sirect object". It seems you can. "I was about to tell him the story. However I suddenly realized I had already told him." You can say this is ellipsis or the indirect object is implied in the previous sentence, but the the sentence doesn't strictly contain the direct object. – Zebrafish Jan 31 '19 at 8:30
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Cat is the direct object: “I” is the teacher and the nominative. If you specify what the cat is being taught then cat would be the indirect object. In fact the cat may remain the indirect object because the sentence may be eliptic. Just my opinion I’m not a grammarian.

  • There is still an implied direct object in this sentence. What is taught to the cat is the direct object, whatever it may be. – Karlomanio Jan 28 '19 at 15:40
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The direct object is "cat". There is no indirect object.

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